Swedish ‘knowledge hubs’ to fight extremism

Swedish 'knowledge hubs' to fight extremism
The new centres are aimed at discouraging Swedish youths from joining up with Islamic extremist groups such as Isis. Photo:AP/TT
Sweden's National Coordinator against Violent Extremism, Mona Sahlin, has announced a pilot programme to set up special centres in four cities in order to prevent the recruitment of people to extremist groups.

“We're starting with four pilot municipalities that have growing problems and have admitted deficiencies in their work against extremism,” Sahlin told the Swedish TT news agency.

In January, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Örebro and Borlänge will each open what was referred to as a “knowledge centre” (“kunskapshus”) in which local experts will be able to quickly respond when someone shows signs of radicalization.

People who are concerned that a family member may be becoming radicalized can turn to the centres for support and advice as can people who want to break away from an environment that encourages violence.

According to Sahlin, the purpose of having everything under one roof is that people who need support and help can avoid being shuffled around between different authorities and agencies.

“There are a lot of territories and a lot of obstacles between authorities, but that won't do any longer,” says Sahlin.

She hopes that the four pilot municipalities will demonstrate to other municipalities that preventative work can be fast and effective.

Mona Sahlin, centre, with representatives from the Swedish cities. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

The idea takes its inspiration in part from Århus in Denmark, which opened a centre in 2007 to combat the radicalization of youth after the London bombings of 2005.

The “Århus model”, based on cooperation between the police, social services, schools and Muslim communities, has been very successful in preventing people from travelling to Syria to participate in terrorist groups, according to TT.

In the last 18 months the number of people heading to fight in the Middle East from Århus has dropped dramatically.

The Århus centre also provides a mentor programme to help people choose other paths than that of violent extremism, and Sahlin wants to incorporate that idea into the Swedish system of centres.

Sahlin told Swedish national broadcaster, SVT, that there have also been successful Swedish interventions.

“I know a case where a Muslim imam had time to get out and talk to a guy who said ‘I'm going down to die a martyr's death — there's nothing you can say that can change me’.“ 

“Then said the imam ‘but you will not die a martyr's death. You will drown in a sea of ​​your mother's tears’.”

“Then he looked at his mother, who was sitting next door and cried and cried.”

“This guy is still in Sweden.”

Sweden' Security Service, Säpo, revealed last month that around 300 Swedish nationals are believed to have left the country to travel to fight with Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.