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‘Sweden should target women extremists more’

Female extremism is a growing problem in Sweden and the government should do more to prevent it, argue Jessica Katz and Katarina Tracz from the Stockholm Free World Forum.

'Sweden should target women extremists more'
The radical Islamist Al-Shabaab group in Somalia. Photo: Mohamed Sheikh Nor/TT

Since Islamic State (Isis or IS) proclaimed its caliphate over a year ago, the need for various types of support for community building has increased. As a result female recruitment has also escalated.

Not only warriors are in demand in the caliphate; women are lured by promises of getting a central role in the new Islamic state.

Swedish migration to Isis is the largest in the Nordic region in terms of numbers, and the second largest in Europe in relation to population size.

According to Säpo (the Swedish security police), over 300 people have travelled to Syria to fight for movements like Islamic State, with the confirmed figure for female travellers standing at 30-40 individuals.

The majority of these people come from western Sweden and Gothenburg. Just as for male Isis supporters there is a great risk that there are large hidden numbers.

Right now there is an intense debate about how the prevalence of violent Islamist extremism can be prevented and managed.

Sweden is far behind other countries in the prevention and implementation of legal sanctions, despite the high number of Swedish Isis travellers and an elevated threat of Islamist terrorism. The awareness of Swedish women’s connection with Islamic extremist movements is also non-existent or at best inadequate.

In traditional terrorism research the image of female extremism has often been misleading. In many respects, the female followers of movements such as Isis are portrayed as more peaceful than men.

This has led to the common notion that female Isis members are somehow forced into an extremist environment. Women have therefore not been regarded as the same potential threats as men.

This approach has impacted on Sweden’s efforts against violent Islamist extremism.

In the government’s action plan against violent extremism it is argued that women in violent Islamist environments are not part of the direct security-threatening activities. Mona Sahlin, who is the national coordinator against violent extremism, has repeatedly described women’s choice to join Isis as a result of having been tricked into travelling.

In addition, Säpo claims that participation of women in Islamic extremist movements is difficult to assess and reports that their efforts have therefore instead focused on male Isis followers.

READ ALSO: Why are Swedish girls joining Isis?

Today, there is no targeted action against violent Islamist extremism in general and female recruitment to Isis in Sweden in particular. This is despite the fact that recent research points out female Isis followers as a growing security threat. The reports have looked at female access to and presence in Isis, pointing to a number of areas where women are directly involved in the movement.

In addition to traditional roles such as wives and mothers of warriors, women take on a number of operational tasks, such as recruiting other women, spreading propaganda or as police in female brigades.

It has also been shown that women within Isis are permitted to have different amounts of power and access to information depending on their matrimonial status in the movement’s hierarchy. The wives of men in higher positions have access to more information about the operations and operating activities.

Although Isis officially forbids women from taking part in hostilities, several of its Western female followers have shown a willingness to fight.

There have also been reports suggesting that women, albeit to a small extent, have begun to participate in hostilities. Moreover, women who have travelled to Isis territories to support the operation have been encouraged to carry out acts of violence in their home countries.

There are many indications that female Isis followers as well as men are a security threat inside and outside of their home countries. But Sweden still bases its attitude towards women in extreme environments on false premises.

Today the greatest terrorist threat to Sweden is violent Islamist extremism. The problem grows in scope as more and more Swedes travel to join movements such as Isis. The fact that women choose to join this type of extreme environment expands and complicates the threat further.

Swedish work against violent Islamist extremism urgently needs to be developed, in particular in respect to female extremism. Continuing to disregard female recruitment to violent extremist environments is to ignore a serious potential security threat.

Jessica Katz is the author of a new report on Swedish women in Islamic State. Katarina Tracz is the director of the Swedish think tank Frivärld. This a translation of an article originally published in Göteborgs Posten.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Chemical crayfish’: Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

It's time for this year's "kräftskivor", Swedish crayfish-eating parties! A cause for celebration? Not if the Swedish media has its way.

'Chemical crayfish': Why does the Swedish media love killjoy festive news?

Sweden’s main newswire this week ran a story warning that an analysis of the eight brands of Swedish crayfish available in the country’s supermarkets contained elevated levels of PFAS, a persistent pollutant which can damage your liver and kidneys, disrupt your hormones, and even cause cancer. 

But don’t worry. If you weigh 70kg or more, you can still safely eat as many as six of the outsized prawn-like crustaceans a week without being in the risk zone. 

While I’m sure the news story, which was covered by pretty much every paper, is accurate, it is also part of a grand Swedish media tradition: running miserable, killjoy news stories whenever there’s a sign that people might be planning to have a bit of festive fun. 

The two public service broadcasters, Swedish Radio (SR) and Swedish Television (SVT) are by far the worst offenders, their reporters unusually skilled at finding a downbeat, depressing angle for every public celebration. 

To give readers a sense of the genre, we’ve spent half an hour or so searching through the archives. 

‘This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is’ (and other yuletide cheer)

Source: Screenshot/SR

Christmas is a time for good food, drinking a little too much, and cheery decorations to ward away the winter darkness. But have you considered the risks?

SR has.

In “This is how dangerous your Christmas tree is”, a local reporter in Kronoberg looked into the possibility that your tree might have been sprayed with pesticide, or if not, might be covered in pests you will then bring into your house. 

By far the most common recurring Christmas story reflects Sweden’s guilt-loaded relationship with alcohol. 

You might enjoy a few drinks at Christmas, but what about the trauma you are inflicting on your children?

In this typically festive report from SVT in Uppsala, a doctor asks, ‘why wait for the New Year to give up alcohol? Why not start before Christmas?’, while the reporter notes that according to the children’s rights charity BRIS, one in five children in Sweden has a parent with an alcohol problem, with many finding drunk adults both “alarming and unpleasant”. 

God Jul! 

The Swedish media finds ways to make you feel guilty about the food you eat at Christmas too. You might enjoy a slap-up Christmas dinner, but what about those who suffer from an eating disorder? SVT asked in this important, but less than cheery, story published in the run-up to the big day. “This is the worst time of the year,” Johanna Ahlsten, who suffered from an eating disorder for ten years, told the reporter. 

Don’t you just love a cosy Christmas fire? Well, perhaps you shouldn’t. A seasonal favourite in Sweden’s media is to run warnings from the local fire services on the risk of Christmas house fires. Here’s some advice from SVT in Blekinge on how to avoid burning your house down. 
 
Those Christmas lights. So mysigt. But have you ever added up how much those decorations might be adding to your electricity bill? SVT has. Read about it all here
 
Finally, isn’t it wonderful that people in Sweden get the chance to go and visit their relatives and loved ones over Christmas.
 
Well, it’s wonderful if you’re a burglar! Here’s SVT Jämtland on the risk of house break-ins over the Christmas period. 
 
Eat cheese to protect your teeth! and other Easter advice 
 
 
“Eat cheese after soda”. Good advice from Swedish Radio. Photo: Screenshot/Richard Orange
 
For the Swedish media, Easter is a fantastic opportunity to roll out all the same stories about the risks of open fires and alcohol abuse, and that they do. But the Easter celebration has an additional thing to be worried about: excess consumption of chocolate and sweets. 
 
Here’s Swedish Radio, with a helpful piece of advice to protect your teeth from all that sugary ‘påskmust’, Sweden’s Easter soft drink. “Eat cheese!”. 
 
Yes, you and your children might enjoy eating all those pick-and-mix sweets packed into a decorated cardboard egg, but have you thought who else has had their grubby hands on them? SVT has. In this less than joyous Easter article  a reporter gives viewers the lowdown on “how hygienic are pick-and-mix sweets?” (According to the doctor they interview, sugar acts as an antibacterial agent, so they are in fact less dangerous than the newsroom probably hoped). 
 
Perhaps though, it’s better to avoid those unhealthy sweets altogether, and instead cram your mouth with healthy raw food alternatives, as SVT advises in this Easter report
 
Aren’t daffodils lovely? Well they’re not if you’re a dog. They’re deadly, according to this Easter report from Swedish Radio on all the “dangers lurking for pets over Easter“.
 
Glad Påsk!
 
Midsommar drowning  
 
Midsommar, again, has all the same possibilities for worried articles about excess drinking etc, but in the summer there’s the added risk of drowning. 
 
From Midsummer until the start of August, the temp reporters who take over Sweden’s newsrooms as everyone else goes on their summer holidays churn out a steady stream of drowning stories, all of them with a slightly censorious tone. After all, most of these accidents are really about excess drinking.
 
Here’s SVT Västmanland tallying up the Midsummer weekend’s death toll in a typical story of Midsommar misery. 
 
So, what is the reason for the Swedish media’s taste for removing as much mirth from festivities as possible?
 
It’s partly because Sweden’s media, unlike that of many other countries, sees its public information role as at least as important as entertaining or interesting readers, so an editor is likely to choose a potentially useful story over a heart-warming one. 
 
This is the aspect of the Swedish media beautifully captured by the singer Lou Reed when talking about how he’s more scared in Sweden than in New York in the film Blue in the Face
 
“You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York, no.” 
 
But it is also reflects the puritanical streak that runs straight through Swedish society, leading to a powerful temperance movement, which meant that by 1908, a staggering 85 percent of Socialist parliamentarians in Sweden were teetotallers.
Sweden is now a liberal country where you can get good food and drink, and enjoy a decent nightlife, but sometimes that old puritanism bubbles up.
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