LU provides education against violent extremism

How we deal with people who return from terrorist groups – not just those who have travelled to ISIS but also those who have joined right-wing groups in, for instance, Ukraine – is crucial to our own safety, says Dan-Erik Andersson, one of the people behind a new national contract education course on violent extremism.

From the left: Dan-Erik Andersson, Tina Robertsson and Anders Ackfeldt who have developed the national contract education course against violent extremism.

“Sweden should do everything possible to prevent and punish terrorist crimes, but those who are freed from suspicion should obviously have the same rights as others in the community”, he says.

On 1 April 2016, Sweden adopted tighter legislation, and travelling to terrorist groups and receiving training etc. became a criminal offence. The legislations concerning financing of terrorist activities has also become stricter.

“In the last year, only a fairly small number of people have travelled to terrorist groups. Most of the 300 Swedes who travelled did so before the law was changed. A lot of the debate is about how they shall be managed by society when they return”, says Dan-Erik Andersson.

He is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and, together with doctoral student Anders Ackfeldt and study coordinator Tina Robertsson, he has designed a contract education course on violent extremism (see box).

The Swedish Minister for Culture and Democracy Alice Bah Kuhnke has received harsh criticism for not sufficiently promoting municipal work against violent extremism. This can partly be explained by the lack of thorough evidence-based approaches for attacking the problem, argues Dan-Erik Andersson. The City of Lund’s way of dealing with a 17-year-old who returned from IS was, however, presented by the minister in the debate. Dan-Erik Andersson also thinks it is a good example of effective cooperation between the police and social services.

“But once the police and judicial authorities had done their job and the municipal coordinator decided that the Social Services Act applies and that the 17-year-old was to have access to the same healthcare and rights as everyone else, there were strong protests and the case still features on, for example, Russian TV as evidence of Swedish naivety and laxity”, says Dan-Erik Andersson.

The work against violent extremism must take place on several levels at the same time, he argues.

“Everyone agrees that we should be a thorn in the side of anyone who leaves to join ISIS, for example. Obviously, we must invest a lot of resources so that police, prosecutors and experts can do their job and, of course, that those who commit crimes are punished. Perhaps the law must be changed; maybe we should do like they did in Belgium, where simply leaving the country to go to ISIS is a crime.”

“At the same time, society must protect itself by preventing further radicalisation here and now, and by managing those who have left these violent environments, who have not committed crimes, and who need to be reintegrated into society. Doing so is in everyone’s interest.”

Facts: The contract education course “Våldsbejakande extremism i Sverige ­– individ, samhälle, ideologi och praktik (Violent extremism in Sweden – individual, society, ideology and practice) is offered by Lund University for twenty weeks from April to October. The client is the National Coordinator to safeguard democracy against violent extremism.

Sweden’s leading experts in the field teach the course. In addition to researchers at Lund University, the participants include Mattias Gardell, Uppsala, who lectures on “lone wolves”, Christer Mattsson, Gothenburg, who lectures on the “Kungälv model” which has helped people leave right-wing extremist environments, Hans Brun and Magnus Ranstorp, both experts on terrorism at the Swedish Defence University, and Lisa Kaati, Swedish Defence Research Agency, who teaches about internet’s importance for violent extremism.

The course is mainly conducted as distance learning, but it also includes nine full days in Stockholm. Every week, an email is sent out with the theme of that week. The email will contain texts, articles, videos and slide shows, and a total of fourteen podcasts produced specifically for the course by radio journalist Lars Mogensen.