Sweden: "I'm clueless"
Clueless might not be the proper word to describe it. Why wait until your son-in-law tries to commit mass murder in Copenhagen? When your pregnant 17 year old daughter is caught trying to sneak into Somalia, it should set off all the alarm bells. And after she was caught with her baby in Pakistan, I wonder why either she or her boyfriend still have custody of their children.
Benaouda breaks her silence. How is it possible that Helena Benaouda, head of the Muslim Council of Sweden, didn't know that her son-in-law went to Copenhagen, where he was arrested on suspicion of terrorist crimes? In an interview with DN's Ann Persson, she speaks for the first time (SE) about the charges against her son-in-law. Benaouda is currently in hiding for fear of threats against her family.
Q: How did you hear that Munir Awad was arrested?
A: A journalist called me up. I asked my daughter, and when we searched for him, he was nowhere. They don't live together, but they had contact a few days earlier, because they have two small children together.
Q: In SVT's Debatt, shortly after the attack in Stockholm, December 11, you said that you don't personally meet extremists. Two weeks later, you son-in-law is arrested, for the third time, suspected of terrorist crimes. How do the two go together?
A: They don't go together. If the suspicions against Munir Award are correct, we have no evidence of it yet, it will be surprising that my daughter didn't know anything. Safia says: 'I don't get it, I don't know what he's doing'. And I should have known. How is it possible to hide these things from those who are close to you?
Q: Is it possible?
A: Yes. relatives are kept out. but at the same time, these women and children lose context. People who are really extremists distrust society and vice versa. And at the same time, the women are suspected by society since everybody thinks they know something. Thankfully Safia has me as a gateway out to mainstream society.
Q: Why did you go into hiding?
A: I've been taking care of my daughter, and my two small grandchildren. We can't live at home by me, since the media is chasing them. Therefore we're living now by some friends. I stay away so the media won't track them through me. But personally, I get threatening SMS and phone calls round the clock. The first days I was afraid I'll be attacked, and will be totally unable to help Fia.
Q: Isn't it strange that the main spokesperson for Sweden's Muslims has been unavailable after the arrested in Copenhagen?
A: For more than a week I went back to solve the crisis in my family. The critics should actually respect that. In addition, there's a deputy chairman.
Q: Your statements during the chaotic discussion on SVT's Debatt have been interpreted to mean that you ignore the existence of Muslim extremism, and instead choose to speak about the Sweden Democrats and threats against Muslims. Has extremism increased in Islam?
A: I think that extremism is increasing on both sides. These are forces that are feeding each other. But extremists don't come to a regular Swedish mosque and talk of their intentions. For them we are defectors to Swedish society. We can talk about it with the youth, and we do that. Now society is placing all the blame on us, though we are a volunteer organization without employees. But we have no resources. We should discuss a common strategy together with SAPO (Swedish security service), ministries and authorities. Mosques and churches are not police authorities who can chase people. We have a different ethical and social role. If we were invited to a proper cooperative effort, I would immediately say yes. Additionally, I have personal experiences of what happens with women and children. How do we ensure that they aren't left out of society?
Q: Where have you seen extremism?
A: On the net there are exaggerated interpretations of Islam, and incorrect translations of Jihad. In Islam, war is not holy. For me, the suicide bomber in downtown Stockholm is a criminal. I reject all Islamic extremism. Applying violence is always unacceptable.
Many of those who are convicted of terrorist crimes, previously committed other crimes. These guys don't know Islam. They've recently been 'saved'. they punish themselves by being very, very 'pious'. I've seen the same mechanism in women, through they don't have a violent expression. A women who's recently become Muslim, and who previously partied a lot, can become very extreme in her views. They take on roles that Islam doesn't require. It's very unfortunate when misguided people lose themselves. This applies also to Christianity.
Q: You're previously said that Munir Awad and your 17 year old pregnant daughter went on a Christmas holiday trip to Dubai in 2007, and that it was love of adventures that led them to spontaneously travel further to Somalia. Later Munir Awad himself said that he planned in advance to settle in Somalia. Weren't you clueless?
A: Completely clueless. But Fia described the trip that way. How unusual is it for somebody to go for a Christmas trip and the not come home? I don't understand why anybody will move to Somalia. The media build up entire scenarios about what happened on the trips. The only crime that we know for certain is that they went into Pakistan without a visa. I myself find it difficult to deal with this. A thought I've had is that maybe they went because they wanted to be from society and from me.
Q: In the past year Munir Awad was registered at the same address in Stockholm as one of the two Somalis who was recently convicted for conspiracy to commit terrorist crimes in Somalia. Wasn't that a warning?
A: I learned this in the summer, when the Somalis were arrested. Then I told him that he should live with people who get arrested. But I didn't say anymore, since I don't have such a close relation with him.
Q: After returning from the trip to Somalia, Munir Awad still owed the state for the journey home from imprisonment in Ethiopia, paid by the Foreign Ministry. Do you know how he and you daughter could then afford to go to Mecca, and then later to Pakistan?
A: I have no insights into their finances. But I know that my daughter has no money. She said that Munir paid. But now you're bringing up questions that they should answer.
Q: You questioned that you daughter and your two-year old grandchild were held in detention without committing any come. But you've also defended, and made yourself into a spokesperson, for a man that you don't know much about.
A: I don't know precisely if I defended Munir. Formerly I've questioned his judgment. If he had acted more wisely, we wouldn't have been made vulnerable. But because he was previously released, there was of course no sufficient evidence for what the media wrote about him. Regardless if he will be released this time, I hope that the evidence is made public. Since I can't speculate on their relationship. The most important thing for me is that Safia still has confidence in me. I don't want her to turn her back on me. Then I would leave her in the lurch. She hadn't finished high-school and she's now living on child and parental benefits. I am glad that she said that she will start studying again.
Q: Has your credibility been affected?
A: I can understand if those who don't know me wonder what's going on. And I've been criticized by several commentators. But Sunday afternoon the board of the Muslim Council of Sweden reestablished their faith in me as chairperson.