When an Islamist suicide bomber accidentally detonated two of the three explosive devices he had brought to a bustling Stockholm shopping district in early December, Sweden's Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt reacted placidly to the attempted mass murder by saying that Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly's behavior was "unacceptable." At the same time, he urged his fellow citizens in the "Land of the Midnight Sun" not to jump to hasty conclusions about any jihadist connection.
That may prove tricky. Before the attack, al-Abdaly, Baghdad-born, British-educated, and a holder of Swedish citizenship, had emailed an audio recording to the media in which he declared himself a jihadi. The Swedish domestic security agency SÄPO has estimated that there are some 200 violent Islamists in the country. In the event, it is a wonder that al-Abdaly managed to kill only himself.
Sweden has been neutral since the early 1800s, sitting out both world wars that ravaged Europe. Even during the Holocaust, it sought to avoid entanglement, though ultimately it did offer haven to Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Denmark, and the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, stationed in Budapest, famously rescued many Jews from Hitler's clutches.
It was another Swede, Emil Sandstrom, who in 1947 headed the UN committee recommending the partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. When the Arabs said "no" and tried to strangle Israel at birth, Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN's Swedish envoy to the Mideast, offered a peace plan that would have rolled back Israel's newly gained sovereignty. Later, the Swedish diplomats Dag Hammarskjold and Gunnar Jarring also sought to mediate between Arabs and Israelis.
Although many Swedes are sympathetic to Israel, the Swedish Left has been hostile since the 1960s. Olof Palme, the late Social Democratic prime minister, went so far as to liken Israel's policies to those of the Nazis. Today, though a Center-Right coalition narrowly holds power, the Left dominates the diplomatic corps, the Lutheran church, and most newspapers and non-governmental organizations. When, in 2009, the country's largest tabloid Aftonbladet carried a story asserting that Israeli soldiers harvested the organs of Palestinian youths, the political leadership obstinately refused to distance itself from the calumny. Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is frequently and publicly antagonistic to Israel, castigating its every self-defense measure. Sweden has also been a voice against Israel within the European Union.
What of Sweden's 15,000 Jews? The identifiably Jewish among them have not had an easy time of it, being prey to the sometimes violent anti-Semitism prevalent among the country's 500,000 Muslims. Approximately half of Swedish Muslims live in Stockholm; Malmö, in the south, is one-quarter Muslim. Many Jews have decided to abandon the latter city, whose Social Democratic mayor has insinuated that they deserve to be attacked for not distancing themselves from Israel. The Simon Wiesenthal Center has recommended that foreign Jews avoid travel to Sweden altogether.
Given Sweden's lusty embrace of multiculturalism and an immigration policy that many observers regard as suicidal; its diplomatic predisposition to the Palestinian cause; and its tepid response to violent Muslim anti-Semitism, what could it possibly have done to deserve an Islamist suicide bombing? In his recording, al-Abdaly, for one, named the ongoing war in Afghanistan and a 2007 cartoon depicting the Muslim prophet Muhammad as a dog. But is this credible? Sweden has a mere 500 soldiers in northern Afghanistan, where they are involved mostly in reconstruction work and social services like training midwives. As for the allegedly offensive cartoons, they appeared in a regional newspaper and were intended only as a protest against the widespread media self-censorship that followed in the wake of the 2005 Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.
More plausibly, Islamists will continue to strike at tolerant Sweden not in retribution for any particular "transgression" but precisely because it forms a part—and a conveniently vulnerable part—of the hated West. Like London, where al-Abdaly was trained, like Paris, like Madrid, the Swedish paragon of national isolationism, neutrality, and political correctness appears destined to be drawn inexorably into the Islamist war against Western civilization.
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