This hit me at a personal level a couple of weeks ago, when a friend of mine from London, in Stockholm for the weekend, saw an unattended bag outside the Nobel Museum in Gamla Stan.
Anyone who has lived in London is doubly sensitive to the threat of an unattended bag: that is a city that had not only been hit by Islamic terrorism in the past year, but also by decades of Irish Republican attacks.
So my friend was shocked when he went into the Nobel Museum to report the apparently abandoned bag, and was met by incomprehension from the assistant there. Why is this man telling me this, was the apparent reaction of the assisstant.
She seemed unable to understand why an abandoned bag should be a matter of concern, even when it was placed outside the Nobel Museum just days before the Nobel Prize ceremony, a high-profile event at which the prizewinners included Americans, a (Jewish) Briton, Australians and an Israeli.
This needs to be kept in proportion – one hardly expects a busy tourist district like Gamla Stan to be evacuated every time there’s an abandoned bag (and besides, it is currently en vogue for terrorists to blow themselves up with their bags), but the fact that an abandoned bag didn’t even give pause for thought is worrying.
It is probably true that Sweden is not number one on al-Qaeda’s target list, but in the past few weeks it has been hard to ignore the fact that this country has been taking a walk-on part in the “War on Terror”.
A group that says it has links to al-Qaeda has claimed reposnsibility for a failed bomb attack on an Iraqi polling station in Stockholm, although it will take time for the actual perpetrators to emerge.
But combine this with Swedish Nato soldiers being killed in Afghanistan, a young Swede being arrested in Bosnia for apparent links to terrorism and another Swede arrested just this week in Prague accused of helping to run a terrorist training camp in Oregon, it should be very clear that even neutral, liberal Sweden does not live in a different world from everyone else. Not being a member of Nato doesn’t really count for much these days.
Liberal Party leader Lars Leijonborg has accused the Swedish government of being naïve over terrorism, but this probably applies more to large portions of the media and the population at large than it does to the state.
According to Magnus Ranstorp, terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defence College, the Swedish Security Police have a “very good handle” on the terrorist threat, and are well-thought of by security services in other countries.
“The absence of a significant volume of arrests in Sweden is not indicative of a lack of action,” he told me.
Media coverage of the arrest in Prague this week was heavily focused on the fear that the suspected Swedish terrorist would be tortured (by authorities in Oregon, presumably, who were the ones who had ordered his extradition); relatively little concern was expressed that if this man is guilty then he has been actively involved in trying to kill dozens of innocent people.
Torture (or even ‘rendition’) is deplorable, but it seems too easy in Sweden’s comfy cocoon to ignore the fact that if a Swede has been involved in terrorism, that is deplorable too. After all, they’re not going to attack here, are they? The undertone is that if terrorists attack another country, then that country will have brought it upon itself by getting involved in the war on Iraq.
Hopefully there won’t be an attack on Sweden, but Swedes are kidding themselves if they think that it is a special case.