Stockholm this week joined the long and terrifying list of Western cities targeted in recent years by Islamic fundamentalism.
For the first time since the 1970s, the normally tranquil Swedish capital was hit by terror last Saturday, as an apparently botched suicide bombing, which Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "could have been truly catastrophic," tore through its center, wounding two people. The perpetrator, who died of his wounds, is said to have been an Iraqi who immigrated to the country as a child together with his family.
In recent years, according to various media reports, he became increasingly radicalized and may have been linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.
Moments before the blasts, which aimed to slaughter throngs of Christmas shoppers, the TT news agency received communications in Arabic and Swedish warning of unspecified "action."
"Our acts will speak for themselves," they said. "Now your children, your daughters and your sisters will die as our brothers, our sisters and our children are dying." They also urged Islamic a to rise up in Sweden and elsewhere and carry out further attacks.
Despite the chilling familiarity which many of these details share with similar incidents in other parts of Europe, this latest assault by the forces of radical Islam left many people scratching their heads and pondering one simple question: Why would anyone target Sweden? After all, few countries have a reputation as being more tolerant, more open and more accepting.
INDEED, SWEDEN is widely viewed as one of the most liberal states on a very liberal continent, with extensive state-sponsored welfare programs and one of the highest levels of social spending as a percentage of GDP.
The Swedes have also swung open their doors in the past few decades, allowing in significant numbers of Muslim immigrants. Sweden, for example, accepted more Iraqi refugees fleeing the chaos after the toppling of Saddam Hussein than any other country in the West.
In April 2008, the mayor of the town of Sodertalje testified before the US Congress that his municipality with just 85,000 residents had absorbed more Iraqi refugees than the US and Canada combined. Muslims now constitute 5 percent of the Swedish population, with growing political and economic clout.
So the question remains: Why would extremists hit Sweden?
The mainstream media was quick to offer the standard, and rather uninspired, answers, with The New York Times suggesting the bomber was "disaffected" and had "struggled to find his place" in Swedish society. That may or may not be true, but there are plenty of outcasts and outsiders in every community, and not all of them strap explosives to their bodies and seek to maim the innocent.
Other media outlets suggested that the presence of 500 Swedish troops in Afghanistan, or a Swedish artist's 2007 rendering of the founder of Islam in the form of a dog, are what may have sparked the attacker's fury. But these explanations just don't cut it. They all miss the point, one that has been driven home time and again since 9/11.To put it as simply as possible: These attacks have little to do with what the West does, and everything to do with what the West is and what it represents. The haters, killers and extremists may seize upon this or that current event as a convenient excuse to justify their actions, but what fuels their extremism is a worldview that is bent on global Islamic domination.
A clue to this could be found in the threat sent just prior to the Stockholm attack, which said in part, "Now the Islamic state has been created. We now exist here in Europe and in Sweden. We are a reality."
In other words, the bomber felt himself to be part of a larger movement, one that is seeking not to alter Western policy, but the very identity and nature of the West.
So no matter how much some might like to believe that steps such as withdrawing from Afghanistan will appease or address concerns raised by the extremists, they are sadly deluding themselves. If anything, the Stockholm bombing underlines the need for Western countries to adopt a firmer and more uncompromising stance against radical Islam.
SADLY, SWEDEN has not always adhered to that line. Earlier this year, for example, after the IDF intercepted the flotilla planning to bring supplies to Hamas-controlled Gaza, the Swedish foreign minister summoned Israel's ambassador to demand an explanation. Shortly thereafter, Swedish dockworkers declared a week-long boycott of all Israeli goods and cargo.
And in the fall of 2009, after a popular Swedish newspaper accused IDF troops of killing Palestinians to harvest their organs, the Swedish government rejected Israeli requests to condemn it.
So even as it kowtowed to Islamic extremists, Stockholm simultaneously could not muster support for its more natural ally, democratic Israel.
Sweden's real "sin," therefore, boils down to the midrashic dictum found in Kohelet Rabba that he who is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind.
By failing to take a firmer stance against radical Islam, and refusing to stand by those such as Israel who suffer at its hands, Sweden's leaders perhaps thought they would spare themselves the terror being meted out to other European countries.
Last Saturday's bombing proved just how wrong they could be.