Nir Levitan
Nir Levitan

Sweden and the struggle against radical Islam

Each year, the Swedish intelligence service Säpo summarizes the security situation in a comprehensive report. Its most recently published edition states that the rapid growth of violent extremist groups is a severe threat to Sweden’s security. According to Säpo extreme ideologies are the basis for recruiting young people for illegal activities (based on closed network communities) across Sweden, while the Swedish intelligence service steps up to trace them and thwart their activities.

Magnus Ranstorp, a scholar at the Swedish Defence University and one of Sweden’s foremost experts on extremism, warned authorities as early as 2012 that citizens who left Sweden to join Islamist organizations in Syria were considered a security threat. This threat is expected to increase even further in the next few years when they return to their families.

Compared to the Swedish ruling Social Democratic Party, the identical party in Denmark has achieved success through a government initiative to prevent the return of jihadist fighters to Denmark and to act relentlessly against extremist groups. Sweden, however, is still powerless to resolve this issue. Säpo does reliable work, but it cannot stop violent Islamism alone. Even as fruitful cooperation between Swedish and Danish intelligence agencies is expected to remain at a high level, its impact will be limited without political decisions.

More grave is the environment in which extremists have become radicalized. Säpo states that there is an “institutionalization” of violent extremism. In practice, it is a matter of public subsidies – hundreds of millions of krona being unintentionally paid to organizations that support extremist groups and invite well-known controversial preachers who advocate incitement. Some of them also support the death penalty for those who leave Islam in order to preserve loyalty to the closed community rather than society-at-large.

Findings of a new report also revealed that a community school for young children in Malmö, which received hundreds of thousands of krona from the National Agency for Education to carry out homework assistance activities, in fact allocates this funding to lectures by Salafist preachers.

Säpo draws the obvious conclusion that public institutions must stop financing the activities of such organizations. On the backdrop of a series of scandals. several parties in the Swedish parliament recently put forward proposals on the Riksdag’s table demanding a comprehensive external review of funding sources for civic organizations. Ranstorp, the Swedish Defence University scholar, believes that a chain reaction to prevent funding and enact legislation is necessary for decision-makers.

Recent events have once again raised Sweden’s awareness of the serious challenges it faces, as many are already acting more suspiciously towards extremist groups. Both the monitoring of activities of closed communities and even those that work to cooperate with government officials, receive more scrutiny. This shows that Swedes are aware of the double games played by these groups. The near future will be a testament to whether Sweden will pursue a policy similar to Denmark.

About the Author
Nir Levitan is a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University's Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation. Currently, he is a research fellow at the Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark
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