Crosspost By: Kitimbwa Sabuni
Since 2012 Sweden adopted its own version of the PREVENT strategy implemented in Britain. However, the emergence of the Islamic State and the fear of foreign fighters has, like in Britain, made the political atmosphere increasingly hysterical. Here, Kitimbwa Sabuni of the Muslim Human Rights Committee in Sweden explores the background of one anti-radicalisation organisation in Sweden.
Since the 9-11 attacks, security services across the world have ramped up their budget allocations under the pretext of foiled terror plots that do not withstand closer inspection. Pressed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, NSA chief Keith Alexander admitted in 2013 that the number of terrorist plots foiled by the NSA’s huge database of every phone call made within or to America from abroad, was only one or perhaps two.
In Sweden the equivalence of these anti-terrorism fairy tales have emerged in the field of anti-radicalisation which is a recent, but quickly growing offshoot of the anti-terrorism industry. The Kingdom of Sweden, known for its neutrality, has embarked on a new foreign policy strategy which has made it a staunch ally of the US in the War on Terror. With that follows a need to legitimise the new policies by sparking up fear of home grown Islamic terrorism. Sweden has had its own version of the British PREVENT-strategy in place since 2012, but with the emergence of IS and the assertion by the Swedish security police, Säpo, that some100 Swedes could be fighting in Syria, the program has gained a new urgency leading to former social democratic leader Mona Sahlin’s appointment as the Head of the Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism in 2014.
In this welcoming context the organisation SATA (Swedish Anti-terrorism and Defectors) emerged as a darling of the media and the go-to-guys for policy makers. SATA’s method, according to its founder, 21 year old Mohamed Artan, consists of patrolling Swedish airports for “suspicious looking young Muslims”. Once having found such individuals they approach them and go on to convince them of the futility of going to Syria. SATA claimed to have stopped several Muslim youths from going to Syria to join IS in this sensational way.
All was good and well until SATA made the mistake of being specific when reporting that they had stopped three Muslim youths from going to Syria at the airport in the city of Umeå in November 2014. The story quickly started to raise questions. No one in the local Muslim community had heard of the incident nor had they any clue who the three youths might be that were supposedly back at home safe and sound in the bosom of their parents. The national public radio show “Medierna” (The Media) investigated and it quickly turned out that there was absolutely nothing to corroborate the story that by then had been all over Swedish and foreign media. Mohamed Artan was interviewed on the show and could provide no credible answers. When pressed about his organisation, that was registered as late as October 2014, he said that he could not comment on SATA’s work for fear of compromising his co-workers. People should understand that his relation to the rest of the organisation is like “that between a prime minister and the security police” so he can only speak vaguely about SATA’s actions.
So what we are left with is a disgraced 21 year old member of the Muslim community and everyone who formerly flocked to him, from the journalists to Mona Sahlin, doing their best to keep their distance. But it is important that the politicians and the media do not escape their part of the blame for this. Young, impressionable people can always be bedazzled by the prospect of being on TV and being listened to by politicians. But those institutions have cooperated to create the sort of hysterical environment that is conducive for attention seeking personalities like Artan to emerge while ignoring or even actively excluding any Muslims with an alternate view about so-called Muslim radicalisation and what should be done about it.
Mohamed Artan never missed a chance to push for even more draconic legislation against Muslim foreign fighters than even the most hawkish of Swedish politicians. He gained his brief status as an expert by referring to politicised Muslim adults who go to fight abroad as “religiously brainwashed youngsters affected by computer games” thus lining up behind the racist world view which claims that white Christian westerners are violent for political, often noble reasons, while a Muslim’s violence can only be due to “bad” interpretations of Islam. This kind of reasoning coming from the Muslim community itself is exactly what is needed by politicians to avoid the political questions raised by Swedish Muslims choosing to go abroad to fight. Some of these questions concern Swedish foreign policy like involving Sweden in the military interventions of the US and Nato in places such as Libya, Somalia and Afghanistan.
Swedish Politicians and journalists are no more gullible than the average person. The problem was that they had already formed an opinion on the issue of Muslim foreign fighters and the need to stop them and were on the lookout for informants whose stories fit into that narrative. Mohamed Artan came as a godsend to them with his fabulous stories of stopping young Muslims from going to Syria by utilising, at airports, the power of persuasion.
This fiasco is unlikely to change much but we should expect many more Mohamed Artans to emerge. Swedish politicians will continue to need the assistance of these characters since Swedish foreign policy towards the Muslim world will continue to be hawkish given that Stockholm is increasingly taking its cues from Washington.
With the media the picture is more complex. Of course stories of Muslims as a threat sells newspapers but Swedish journalists themselves are known to be liberals when it comes to foreign policy. But their approach dovetails with hardliners, in that they subscribe to the same paternalistic racist idea that Muslim actions are only driven by religion, making them blind to the genuine political Muslim agency. They actually think they are part of the solution when promoting the likes of Mohamed Artan and that they are helping to legitimise the government’s policies vis-a-vis Muslim radicalisation.
They are likely to turn out to be harder to influence in a positive direction than politicians, since people driven by self-righteousness are much harder to dissuade than those acting out of cold calculation.
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