Deeply attached to its reputation as a democratic, secular, humanitarian superpower, Sweden’s dedication to equal opportunity is under question. Many of the country’s immigrants feel a pervasive sense of societal exclusion.
According to Al Aljazeera, there is now a growing radicalisation among non-ethnic Swedes – as people from immigrant backgrounds are called.
Though Sweden’s national security agency, the SAPO, officially estimated that 299 Swedish nationals have travelled to fight with the Islamic State, the actual number is widely suspected to be higher. As it stands, the official figure makes Sweden the second-largest per capita supplier of foreign fighters in Europe, just behind Belgium.
Sweden and the city of Gothenburg in particular are now reckoning with this problem, reported Al Jazeera.
“Most people who go fight with ISIL from Malmö, Stockholm or other cities in Sweden arrange their travel with people from Gothenburg,” Karwan Faraj, a longtime youth organiser, was quoted as saying. “The reason is that there are a few big families here in Gothenburg who have good networks down in Syria with these groups – sons, cousins, nephews, relatives already down there fighting. Gothenburg is the strongest base for these recruiting networks.”
According to Al Jazeera, like many other European countries watching their youths run away to join ISIL, Sweden is basically fumbling in the dark for ways to intervene in what is often obliquely described as the radicalisation process.
“There are 550,000 people in Gothenburg, and we are the city that has the most ISIL fighters. How come? Because we have different centres of very strong Wahhabi leaders and they work like religious engines,” said Ulf Boström, a middle-aged Swede who left his position as a beat cop in Gothenburg 11 years ago to become Sweden’s only integration police inspector. Now he works in the suburbs and is charged with getting to know the area’s religious leaders, having meaningful conversations with them and stopping problems before they start.
According to Al Ajazeera, many attribute Islamic States’ recruiting success in Sweden to what they describe as social problems – unemployment, discrimination, bad housing policy, high divorce rates and confusion around identity. Yet Jankovski, the National Center Against Violent Extremism coordinator, had trouble accepting this theory. “If you compare Sweden to every country in Europe, we have very few social problems, less poverty, free schooling. How come young people in Gothenburg would want to leave one of the most well organised countries in the world to go down to Raqqa?”