2006-09-08 Mark Cummins
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A Shake-up For Traditional Swedish Freedom

Mark, now what about countries like Sweden in Scandinavia ? The attacks on the US were obviously a jolt for everyone one way or another five years ago. But the reactions in Sweden didn’t become a broad topic of discussion like those in the US for example. Five years later, what remains of that impact, on this anniversary. How do people remember it?

"I think you can sum up the effect that 9/11 had on Sweden with three issues: civil liberties, political correctness and self-censure. That’s the sort of things that people are still talking about today, along with perhaps the perceived threat from jihadism or Muslim fundamentalism.

General opinion has been that while Sweden wouldn’t become a target itself, it does run the risk of say, like Germany becoming a base or a safe-haven for jihadist groups to work out of. This fear at this point would appear to be ungrounded. There’s been no evidence that that those kinds of activities are going on here.

In the popular psyche however, terrorism is still coupled to Islam, and it’s something that’s prompted a huge debate as to how Sweden as a society should integrate its one-hundred-thousand-strong Islamic community.

The other aspect has been on the civil liberties front where the government has been talking about introducing ways in which it would be better able to track down these kinds of activities if they did happen. This climate of fear or this climate of apprehension perhaps - fear is too strong a word maybe in the Swedish case - leads to the public thinking that, “OK, we can give up some of our civil liberties if this means the government and police will be able to catch terrorists if they are here .

I think that one thing that is very important to Swedes is being a free and open society.

I mean politicians in Sweden, politicians are walking around in the election campaign with very few security guards etc. Swedes pride themselves on the free society.

So this debate or this issue of civil liberties is something that has been really new to Sweden. So there’s been a lot of concern in the press that people aren’t really thinking about what this talk of being able to bug or being able to track people’s online activities, where that’s actually going to lead Sweden, I think that people are just actually still - even five years after 9/11 - having a knee-jerk reaction “terrorism is bad we need to stamp it out."

The Scandinavian countries at the time, five years ago when this happened, perhaps felt indeed less threatened by any follow-up action of this kind, unlike some other European countries seen as closer allies of the US but that perhaps has changed in these five years ?

"I think it was felt that there was peace and harmony reigned here. That really changed last year and definitely the beginning of this year with the Danish caricature affair.

I think people will remember it was all over the media at the time, that there were caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed that were printed in newspapers in Denmark that evoked a huge negative reaction all over the world from Muslim communities. The Danish embassy was burned down in Beirut, the Swedish Embassy that happened to be in the same building was also badly affected. That was a shock that really ran through all of Scandinavia. And it really started a debate about freedom of expression and also of globalism. I think many people were surprised that caricatures that were printed in a small Danish newspaper would have such effect all around the world. The other aspect was ‘if that’s the case, then what should we actually be printing? Should we, in Sweden and in the Scandinavian countries which traditionally feel as if they’re quite remote from the rest of the world in many ways, should we be actually thinking more about the type of things we put in our papers?’ So there was a very large discussion also in Sweden that was talking about political correctness and self-censure. In sort of an exercise in self-censure Swedish media didn’t print the pictures of the Prophet Mohamed that had been causing the problem.

But in one development, a website of a far-right party where similar drawings were published, that was actually closed down after pressure from the Swedish foreign office, something which led to the resignation of the foreign minister here when that came to light.

So while we haven’t seen direct effects of 9/11 in the type of problems or even in terrorist attacks that have been in other European countries, Scandinavia has in its own way been affected quite dramatically by the events of 9/11."

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