While Denmark considers prosecuting jihadis for treason and Britain is thinking of taking away their citizenship, Sweden aims for dialogue and understanding. Social Democrat Mona Sahlin, Sweden's national coordinator of the struggle against violent extremists, thinks it would be beneficial if local municipalities were to help them get an education and a job.
Ms. Sahlin is far from a peripheral figure in Swedish politics. After the assassination of Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1987, his successor Ingvar Carlsson immediately chose Mona Sahlin, who had already served as government minister in several departments, as his crown princess.
But in 1995, just as Carlsson announced his retirement, a scandal erupted involving Sahlin. The media revealed that she had been using government credit cards for her personal use, and she was forced to take a time-out from politics.
A bit of graft may not be a big deal in countries where you expect politicians to be less than squeaky clean, and the 25,229 kroner (roughly $3,000) of taxpayers' money she admitted to have appropriated was no big sum. But in Scandinavia, it is the thought that counts. In 1992, a promising Danish Social Democratic MP had to leave politics entirely because he had stolen an ice cream bar.
Mona Sahlin, however, has a way of always climbing back. When former Prime Minister Göran Persson resigned as Social Democratic party leader in 2007, she was the only candidate nominated to succeed him. Many Social Democrats wanted a woman on the post and Sahlin's old lapses seemed forgiven and forgotten. With Sahlin leading the party, however, the Social Democrats suffered their biggest loss ever. In 2010, the party received 30.7% of the vote -- the lowest figure since universal suffrage was introduced in 1921. Once again, she had to resign.
Culture is for foreigners
It has undoubtedly contributed to her party's decline that Mona Sahlin seems to have a low opinion of Swedes and Swedish culture.
On October 22, 2000, she explained to Göteborgs-Posten newspaper, that if two people are equally qualified for a job in an enterprise with few immigrants, "the one who is called Muhammad should get the job. It should be counted as a merit to have another background than Swedish."
She has never hidden the fact that she wants Sweden to become less Swedish and more multicultural. In 2001, she said in a radio interview that, "the Swedes must be integrated into the new Sweden; the old Sweden is never coming back."
The following year, she got a question from the newspaper Euroturk: What is Swedish culture? She answered: "I've often had that question but I cannot figure out what Swedish culture is. I think that is what makes many Swedes so envious of immigrant groups. You have a culture, an identity, a history, something that binds you together. What do we have? We have Midsummer's Eve and such corny things."
Needless to say, many Swedes were not impressed.
Last year, a Conservative government gave Socialist Mona Sahlin an important assignment: to be national coordinator of the fight against violent extremism. It was up to her to keep an eye on the extremists and suggest actions to prevent them from committing terrorist attacks and other atrocities.
It soon appeared that she seemed more concerned with the well-being of the jihadists than with the country's peaceful majority.
There was, she told the Norwegian Broadcasting Company [NRK], too much focus on those who had already traveled to Iraq and Syria. Instead, she said, she wanted to prevent the initial recruitment. Not -- as one might have thought -- by cracking down on radical imams and others who do the recruiting, but rather by identifying "those at risk of becoming victims of extremists."
Interesting choice of words. If those who go to fight for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq might be "victims of extremists," then how she would characterize the countless men, women and children these "victims" have murdered?
Enough of Sahlin?
Last week, a local politician from the town of Örebro suggested that returning jihadists should get psychological treatment and special help to get a job. Mona Sahlin was quick to say that this was a "good example" of what could be done.
"First of all," she said, "not all who return have committed abominable acts. Those who have, should of course be punished, but others who go there [Syria] might more or less have been tricked into something they could not imagine in advance. They return as soon as possible."
This was too much for terror expert Magnus Norell, who made this comment to Aftonbladet newspaper: "If you want to increase recruitment for the IS, it's a fantastic idea. The message is that it's okay to behave like this and when you come back, we'll fix you up with jobs, housing and therapy."
A voice from Afghanistan
Another upset man is Swedish soldier Fredrik Brandberg, who is on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan. His reaction to Mona Sahlin, and other Swedish politicians' warm concern for returning Islamic warriors, was originally published on Facebook but has found its way to the press.
"In a few months," wrote Brandberg (in both Swedish and English), "I'm back in Sweden after being deployed in Afghanistan, against Talibans and others who have really [been] jeopardizing development in this very sore country.... There is no permanent job waiting for me when I come home."
"I read that Mona Sahlin together with other Swedish political leaders are anxious to take care of Swedish IS-warriors coming home from being involved in Syria, with specially designed programs for work and other issues that would make them function well in our society.
"It would be wonderful if I was met with a comparable program after my homecoming, after which I could feel safe in having a regular job, with monthly income and a social stable situation in the society where I wouldn't need to wonder whether I'm wanted or not."
A spokesman for Sweden's armed forces commented: "We take care of soldiers while they are there on the ground. Once they're back home, it's no longer our business."
These lonely voices may not amount to much in a country that prides itself on uniformity regarding Islam, jihad and immigration, but the fact that a nationally prominent figure such as Magnus Norell is willing to speak out may be an indication that fissures are widening behind the political façade.
Mona Sahlin, Sweden's national coordinator of the struggle against violent extremists, poses with Swedish soldiers in Afghanistan in July 2010. Sahlin thinks municipalities should help jihadists get an education and a job when they return to Sweden from battle in Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, Sweden's armed forces say of their soldiers returning from Afghanistan: "Once they're back home, it's no longer our business." (Image source: Social Democratic Party)
Another indicator that some Swedes have had enough of Sahlin and what she represents is the Social Democratic blogger, Johan Westerholm. He has even coined a term for her sort of politics: "Sahlinism." Sahlinism means that you meet anyone who wants to discuss migration and its accompanying problems with accusations of "racism," "fascism" and "xenophobia," and a total refusal even to debate the issues.
According to Westerholm, Sahlinism is the reason why the immigration-critical Sweden Democrats [SD] keep growing in every opinion poll. If everyone who wants to discuss mass immigration is hammered with the accusation that he "sounds like a Sweden Democrat," it is no wonder, he says, that more and more Swedes become Sweden Democrats. The Sweden Democrats are the only Swedish party to demand a reduction in third-world immigration.
An unexpected blow
Perhaps the hardest blow to Sahlin comes from an unexpected corner.
In a comment in Expressen newspaper, Yekbun Alp, a Kurdish woman active in the struggle for Kurdish rights in Turkey, accuses Sahlin of betraying Kurdish Swedes whose relatives have been killed by the Islamic State:
"Whereas many think that imprisonment for life and extradition would be reasonable measures, Mona Sahlin ... has another plan for how terrorists should be dealt with. ... What will she think of next: Compensate terrorists for lost income? Mona Sahlin wants to reward terrorists who have gone to Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria to rape women and children and sell them as sex slaves -- in addition to decapitating people ..., driving hundreds of thousands away from their homes and committing mass murder, genocide, torture and kidnapping."
If Mona Sahlin had been in charge of the war crimes tribunals after World War II, writes Ms. Alp, she would probably have acquitted the Nazi criminals and given them financial support.
"Sahlin has chosen to turn her back on Kurds, Armenians, Syriacs and Assyrians," writes Alp. "This is a hard slap in the face to all those who have lost a family member, friend, acquaintance or relative who has fought against the IS, and even to democracy in Sweden and abroad."
Yekbun Alp's condemnation is bad news indeed for Sahlin and her Social Democratic and Conservative backers. There are probably upwards of 100,000 Kurds in Sweden and a great number of them are likely to be as angry as Ms. Alp.
Apparently, it has come as a surprise to Sweden's political establishment that not all third-world immigrants form one indistinguishable mass, and that not all Middle Eastern immigrants love each other or have the same political interests. This means that if you side with one group, you are likely to alienate another.
Mona Sahlin and her friends may face some hard choices.
Ingrid Carlqvist and Lars Hedegaard are editors-in-chief of Dispatch International.