Sweden and the Refugee Crisis

In the wake of yet another terrorist attack on European soil, many Americans and Europeans have expressed concern about accepting refugees fleeing ISIS-controlled regions, most of whom are Muslim, for fear of compromising national security. Cornerstone asks: Can Western democracies enact reasonable security measures while still retaining robust protections for members of minority religions seeking refuge? If so, how? 

By: Jacob Rudolfsson

In the wake of the horrible terror attacks in Paris on November 13, Western politicians are forced to ask hard questions about what drives radicalization and how it should be countered. The way our leaders answer these questions will also shape many of their policies, such as migration, national security, and the state’s role in a more globalized society. Is there a risk that governments will miss the mark either by being too restrained or overreaching in their response against ISIS support? 

In Sweden radicalization and recruitment have often been explained by pointing to unemployment and social vulnerability as the main motivation to join the Islamic State. While these factors may play a part, it runs the risk of being a too-limited view. Often the religious motivation has been overlooked. This was evident when Swedish public television in the spring of 2015 broadcasted an interview with a Swedish national who had returned from fighting with ISIS. “Adam,” as the program called him, had been pretty successful in school and even had plans to become a dentist before he was radicalized. But throughout the interview “Adam” gave his religious motivation behind joining ISIS: “Allah orders us to defend his religion,” he said, adding that Sweden was a good country to live in, but that he wants his children “to grow up in an Islamic caliphate.” 

In one of the latest editions of Dabiq, which is the Islamic State’s magazine for recruitment purposes, the so-called “Umm Sumayyah Al-Muhajirah” explains why she and other women have chosen to join ISIS: “The opponents often repeat that those who perform hijrah to the Islamic State belong to a marginalized class in their former lands, living in difficult conditions between unemployment, poverty, family problems, and psychological disorders. But I saw something contrary! I saw sisters who divorced the Dunyā and came to their Lord, striving. I saw sisters who abstained from a life of luxury and abundant wealth. I saw sisters who abandoned a beautiful home and luxurious car, and ran for the cause of their Lord.”

It is a huge irony that while the Islamic State claims to shun a life of wealth, Western politicians claim that those who fight for them are not wealthy enough. 

Another response from the West that seems to be overreaching are proposals for religious tests in our refugee policies to reject Muslims and only welcome Christians and other religious minorities. While this might be out of concern for those Christians and Yazidis fleeing Syria and Iraq, it runs the risk of penalizing “innocent women and children who are fleeing from murderous barbarians simply because they’re not Christians,” as Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said recently. While some of the theological convictions of potential Islamic terrorists may overlap to some degree with other Muslims, it is hardly an argument against excluding all Muslims from seeking refuge, as it is an example of a faulty generalization. There is also evidence that shows that radicalization has happened after immigration due to attending mosques in the new home country or listening to messages online, which has been the case in Sweden. Radicalization isn’t always hindered by closed borders. 

Proposals for religious tests also enlarge the role of the government over the individual. Right now, religious convictions are outside the jurisdiction of the state. If the state would enact religious tests in the area of immigration, there wouldn’t be any warrant against religious tests in other political areas. 

There is an irony in the fact that politicians who normally argue for smaller government would now argue for bigger government. 

Western countries are running out of time. According to Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies (CATS) at the Swedish National Defense College, radicalization and the support for terror groups like the Islamic State have been growing among young Muslims in cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö, and Örebro for a long time. He and other researchers and journalists have for a number of years tried to bring this to the attention of Swedish politicians, but haven’t seen much interest. Therefore, it is due time that Western politicians agree to engage with the hard questions and not to settle for reductionist answers. 

Jacob Rudolfsson is the deputy general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. 

This piece was originally authored on November 30, 2015 for the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

Permanent Link: https://www.religiousfreedominstitute.org/cornerstone/2016/7/19/sweden-and-the-refugee-crisis