How Serious Is Sweden's Fight against Islamic Terrorism and Extremism?
Like all other European countries, Sweden is trying to fight against jihadists and terrorists, but it often seems as if the key players in Sweden have no understanding of what the threats are or how to deal with them.
In 2014, for instance, the Swedish government decided to set up a post called the "National Coordinator Against Violent Extremism." But instead of appointing an expert as the national coordinator, the government appointed the former party leader of the Social Democrats, Mona Sahlin. Apart from Sahlin having a high school degree, she is mostly known for a corruption scandal. As a party leader of the Social Democrats, she lost the 2010 election, and as a minister in several Socialist governments, she has not managed to distinguish herself in any significant way. Göran Persson, who was Prime Minister of Sweden from 1996 to 2006, described Mona Sahlin this way:
People believe she has a greater political capacity than she has. What comes across her lips is not so remarkable. Her strength is not thinking, but to convey messages.
With such a background, it was no surprise that she was ineffective as National Coordinator Against Violent Extremism. But the fact that she used her high government agency to help her friends came as a shock to the Swedish public. Sahlin had hired her former bodyguard for a position at her agency and signed a false certificate that he earned $14,000 dollars monthly, so that he could receive financing to purchase a $1.2-million-dollar home.
Sahlin also gave the man's relative an internship, even though the application had been declined. Before Sahlin resigned in May 2016, she said, "I help many of my friends."
Despite the fact that Sweden has a Ministry of Justice responsible for issues that would seem far more related to violent extremism, Sweden has, for some reason, placed the agency to combat violent extremism under the Ministry of Culture.
While the U.S sees the fight against Islamic extremism as a security issue, Sweden evidently believes that combating violent extremism should be placed in a ministry responsible for issues such as media, democracy, human rights and national minorities. With such a delegation of responsibility, the government seems either to be trying to hamper efforts to combat violent extremism, or it does not understand the nature of the threat.
The lack of understanding of violent extremism, combined with politicizing the problem, has been evident, for instance, in Malmö, Sweden's third largest city. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the city councilor responsible for safety and security in Malmö, Andreas Schönström, said that European right-wing extremism is a bigger threat than violent Islamism. And on June 5, 2016, Jonas Hult, Malmö's security manager, wrote: "The right-wing forces in Malmö are the biggest threat."
With such statements, one would think that perhaps Malmö is a city filled with neo-Nazi gangs. Not so. Malmö is a city that usually ends up in the news because of Islamic anti-Semitism or extremist activists working to destroy Israel. There have been no reports of any neo-Nazi movements in Malmö in the recent past.
When supporters of Pegida (an anti-Islamic migration political movement in Europe) came to Malmö, they had to be protected by the police due to thousands of extremist activists and Muslims protesting the presence of Pegida. Of Malmö's residents, 43.2% were either born abroad or their parents were.
Further, the Social Democrat politicians have held local municipal power in Malmö since 1919. To say that Malmö is somehow a place where right-wing extremism is a threat is simply not based on facts. Instead of seriously combating violent extremism, many in Sweden have chosen -- possibly imagining it easier -- to politicize the problem.
Sweden also has not yet reached the point where the authorities distance themselves from violent extremism. The association Kontrakultur (a cultural and social association in Malmö),receives about $37,000 annually from the municipal cultural committee of Malmö. On its website, Kontrakultur writes that it cooperates with an organization called Förbundet Allt åt alla ("The Association Everything for Everyone"). This organization, in turn, according to the National Coordinator Against Violent Extremism, consists of violent extremist activists.
The idea that municipal funds should in no way go to organizations that cooperate with violent extremists is something not yet rooted in Sweden. In June 2016, for example, a 46-year-old Islamic State jihadi arrived in Malmö. He was taken into custody by the police for speedy deportation. But when he applied for asylum, the Swedish Migration Agency took over the matter to examine his asylum application, and ordered the deportation stopped. Inspector Leif Fransson of the border police described the situation:
As soon as these people throw out their trump card and say 'Asylum', the gates of heaven open.
In August 2015, the Swedish government submitted a document to Parliament outlining the Swedish strategy against terrorism. Among other things, the document stated:
It is important that there is a gender perspective in efforts to prevent violent extremism and terrorism.
Under the headline "Gender Perspective" in a committee directive from the Swedish government on the mission of the National Coordinator Against Violent Extremism you can observe:
The violent extremist environments consist mainly of men, and in the extremist movements there are individuals who oppose gender equality and women's rights. It is therefore important that there is a gender perspective in efforts to prevent violent extremism, and that norms that interact and contribute to the emergence of violent environments are effectively counteracted.
Perhaps the Swedish government has a secret plan to convince jihadists to become feminists? But as usual, Swedish politicians have chosen to politicize the fight against extremism and terrorism, and address the issue as if it were about parental leave instead of Sweden's security.
There is no evidence that "gender perspective" is relevant or useful in the fight against extremism and terrorism, yet we see that the Swedish government, in several documents related to terrorism and extremism, evidently believes that "gender perspective" is what should be used in the fight against those threats. This gives just some idea of how strenuously Sweden wants to disregard the problem, or even ask experts for help.
One might argue that this is because Sweden has never been exposed to Islamic terrorism or that extremism is not something that concerns the nation. Sweden has, however, had experience in facing Islamic terrorism. On December 11, 2010, a jihadist blew himself up in central Stockholm. Taimour Abdulwahab did not manage to hurt anyone, but Sweden got a taste of Islamic terrorism and has every reason to want to defend itself against more of it.
Islamic extremism is, unfortunately, becoming more widespread, especially in Sweden's major cities. Gothenburg, for example, has been having major problems with it. In November 2015, there were reports that 40% of the 300 Swedish jihadists in Syria and Iraq came from Gothenburg. The only country that has, per capita, more of its citizens as jihadists in Iraq and Syria than Sweden, is Belgium.
As facts accumulate, there is much information indicating that Sweden has huge problems dealing with Islamic extremism and jihadism. The Swedish Security Service (Säpo), in the beginning of 2015, published a press release using the words "historic challenge" to describe the threat from violent Islamism. Already in May 2015 the head of Säpo, Anders Thornberg, expressed doubts that the agency could handle the situation if the recruitment of jihadists in Sweden continued or increased.
Experts in Sweden's security apparatus have clearly expressed that violent Islamism is a clear and present danger to the security of Sweden, but the politicized debate about Islamic terrorism and extremism does not seem capable of absorbing this warning.
This general politicization, combined with the failure to prioritize the fight against terrorism and extremism, is the reason Sweden is, and continues to be, a magnet for extremists and terrorists. Jihadists who come to Sweden know that there are many liberal politicians looking for invisible "right-wing extremists", and that there are feminists who think what is really important is using "gender perspective" in the fight against extremism and terrorism.
Jihadists also know that there are large gaps in the Swedish bureaucracy and legislation that can be exploited. These are the policies that have been created by Swedish politicians. One can therefore only question if Sweden seriously wants to fight the threats of terrorism and extremism.