Mona Sahlin, leader of the Swedish Social Democratic party (SAP), is known by many names among her opponents. Though Sahlin is not Muslim, one of the most common nicknames for her is “Mona Muslim.” This appellation might suggest a cartoon character, or perhaps a Sesame Street muppet, but behind it lies a deepening anxiety about levels of immigration in Sweden, which has been profitably tapped into and exploited by right-wing political leaders.
Sahlin’s nickname goes back some time, with one of the most frequently cited incidents being her visit as Integration Minister to a mosque a few days after 9/11. It is now regularly used on blogs and political forums as a shorthand way of referring to everything anti-Sahlin.
Use of the word “Muslim” as a politically-charged slur was given what is perhaps its most high-profile run to date during U.S. President Obama’s campaign, with the turban photo and the word “madrassa” which, rather comically, kept cropping up at regular intervals. In Sahlin’s case, use of the nickname “Mona Muslim” is almost invariably accompanied by photographs of the SAP leader during a visit to a mosque (pictured right), with a scarf haphazardly wrapped around her head. “Allah ska med,” a modification of the party’s slogan “Alla ska med” (“all included”) is often provided as a self-explanatory caption.
As Obama faced charges of being a socialist, as well as being a Muslim, Sahlin is on the one hand identified with a stereotypically extreme leftist position (as a self-hating Swede who believes Sweden has no culture), and on the other hand, apparently a fascist; another of her nicknames is “Mona Stalin.”
The parallels highlight the convolutions of making politicians more radically leftist than they really are, while also associating them with totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism by invoking Islamophobia. This forked attack might be paradoxical, but it covers all the bases.