Swedish PM Criticized for Appointing “Islamist” to Cabinet
Kaplan’s selection as minister has prompted widespread outcry, not the least from former Social Democrat party leaders. On October 14th, Dagens Nyheter reported the criticism of Nalin Pekgul, a former Social Democrat MP who is of Kurdish origin. Pekgul classified Kaplan as an “Islamist” with a “hidden agenda that aims to strengthen Islamist forces in Sweden” and called his appointment “surprising and terrifying.” Pekgul pointed to various actions and statements made by Kaplan, adding that no one dares to criticize him lest they be accused of islamophobia.
Prior to serving in the parliament, Kaplan was the spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Sweden (SMR), an umbrella organization totaling 100,000 members. An investigation by the Swedish broadcast station SVT in 2006 noted that SMR shares ideologies with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a recognized Islamist organization. Kaplan, SMR and other Muslim Brotherhood representatives have met in the Swedish Parliament.
Kaplan, who was born in Turkey, was one of the 688 passengers on the 2010 Gaza flotilla organized by the Turkish Islamist organization IHH that attacked Israeli special forces who intercepted one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, resulting in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens and injuries to seven IDF commandos.
In 2011, Kaplan extended a speaking invitation at a Parliament seminar to Yvonne Ridley, a member of Britain’s extremist Respect Party, whose anti-Semitic platform includes radical Islamic ideology and international socialism. Kaplan would later apologize for the invitation, which was withdrawn, claiming that he was unaware of Ridley’s background.
More recently, Kaplan stated that Swedish Muslim youths joining ISIS were akin to Swedish resistance fighters who volunteered for Finland in the 1939 as the Soviet Union invaded. A representative of Sweden’s National Defence College has confirmed that at least 80 Swedes are fighting on behalf of ISIS in Syria. In August, a Swedish caller claiming to be a member of ISIS dialed the popular Arabic satellite Life TV talk-show Su’al Jari (Bold Questions) to threaten the country, putting the police and the Security Service (SÃ¤po) on high alert. The caller, identified on the show as Sheikh Ahmed, quoted the Koran, claiming that god gave Muslims “instruction to kill non-believers,” and that Muslims will “engage in war against Sweden” until “the day we die.”
Although Kaplan later called his association between ISIS and the WWII defense of Finland a “bad comparison,” Pekgul is convinced that Kaplan “says exactly what he means and that he considers Jihadists to be freedom fighters.” She also dismisses Kaplan’s analysis that it is European “Islamophobia” that leads Muslim youth to join ISIS and that public funding must be allocated to mosques to counteract ISIS propaganda. Instead, Pekgul argues that ISIS sympathies are fostered by the alienation of the youth in concert with radical and hateful elements in mosques, frequently embodied by the speakers invited to speak there. Such was the case when the Young Muslims of Sweden, an organization chaired by Kaplan from 2000 to 2002, invited Riyadg ul Haq to the Stockholm mosque. Ul Haq is a British cleric who, according to Pekgul, “supports violent Jihad” and “despises Jews, Christians and Hindus.”
Writing in Dagens Industri, a financial daily, Pekgul compared Kaplan with Jimmie Ã…kesson, the leader of the far-right Sweden Democrat party which gained 13% of the vote in the recent election, who often maintains that he is not a racist. “In the same way, Mehmet Kaplan claims that he stands for equal worth among all people as well as gender equality, but there are few secular Muslims that don’t believe that he is an Islamist. It is a clear sign to Sweden’s Muslims that Islamists now have the support of the Swedish establishment.”
Kaplan has called Pekgul’s accusations “sweeping,” noting that one cannot prove the absence of a hidden agenda. He maintains that he regards ISIS as a terror organization, not freedom fighters, and that he agrees with Pekgul’s take on why ISIS attracts Muslim youths from Europe. Asked twice to indicate how he has distanced himself from radical Islam, Kaplan pointed to various opinion pieces he has authored articulating his views on Muslims in Sweden, emphasizing that he regards politics and religion as mutually exclusive.
Löfven’s new government has already courted controversy over the Middle East. In his inaugural address on October 3rd, Löfven announced that Sweden would recognize “Palestine” as a state, becoming the first long-standing EU country to do so. The following week, an Israeli-based watchdog, NGO Monitor, reported that Sweden funds numerous anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic NGOs that purportedly undermine the peace process. That same week, a regional Social Democrat council member publically claimed that ISIS has been trained by Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2012 International Religious Freedom Report, Muslims account for approximately 6% of Sweden’s population, somewhere between 500,000 and 550,000. According to the UN, Sweden received the most per-capita asylum applications in the world from 2009 to 2013. The current influx of immigrants into Sweden is at its highest level in two decades with refugees primarily from Syria, Somalia, and Iraq – countries with predominantly Muslim populations.