Linda Ahlerup.

Engaging in the fight against extremism and terrorism

Working to counter violent extremism and terrorism, analyst, Linda Ahlerup is employed at the Centre for Societal Security.

After graduating with a Master’s degree in Politics, Security and Crisis, Linda Ahlerup initially took up a position as a research assistant at the Swedish Defence University's Centre for Societal Security (CTSS). Today, she works as an analyst at CTSS, specializing in issues related to extremism and terrorism.

Conducting research and education within total defence and security

The work of CTSS encompasses various research areas and educational activities to develop knowledge, policy and competence within the total defence and societal security fields.

What does your work as an analyst at CTSS involve?

"Our team has written a lot about issues surrounding Salafism and Salafist jihadism in Sweden, and our work has attracted attention in the media as well as at the political and authority level. Last spring, we published a study on Salafism and Salafist jihadism, where one chapter concerned foreign financing of institutions within the Salafist environment in Sweden. Our study led to this issue receiving media attention, and the initiation of a government investigation."

Just over a year ago, you and your colleagues attended a meeting at the US National Security Council, in Washington DC. What was this about?

"Our team meets and briefs both national as well as international academics, security and intelligence agencies, practitioners and policymakers. So my work is about everything from researching and writing studies to briefing policymakers and security experts who work with violent extremism."

Contributing to a safer and more secure society

Linda Ahlerup has always been driven by contributing to a safer and more secure society and creating positive change.

" I am also very interested in people and different life choices, what life choices lead to and how to contribute to strengthening individuals who do not always have that opportunity themselves."

" Where I work now, this is translated into – through increased knowledge – trying to contribute to democratic freedoms and rights to include all individuals in Sweden. Because that's not the case today. The environments we study advocate anti-democratic ideas, which in many cases limit the rights and freedoms of other individuals."

She explains that the team's goal is to highlight and create in-depth knowledge about the impact of the anti-democratic environments on individuals and on society to identify effective countermeasures.

"For example, there are also individuals and groups within these environments who in various ways use the democratic system to finance anti-democratic activities with the help of state funds. Highlighting and problematizing this and the systems we have today can hopefully help create better measures."

Works against honour-related violence and oppression

She is also particularly driven by contributing to girls and women who currently live under various forms of honour-related violence and oppression being able to live a free life in Sweden. The driving force is to create a deeper understanding that can contribute to change.

"All our projects are really about helping to ensure democratic principles – that's the starting point in everything we do. As a society, we must dare to raise the issues and areas of conflict that exist, and be able to problematize and debate this type of topic in a sensible and constructive way."

What's the mood like at your job?

"I work in an absolutely fantastic team and my colleagues are a big reason why my work is so exciting and rewarding. That – and the fact that we are driven by working with these types of issues – is the key to us also producing good products. And despite the heavy issues we work with, we actually have a lot of fun at work!"

Terror studies led to employment

During the master's program, Linda Ahlerup took a course in terrorism studies with teachers from her current workplace. She thought the area sounded very exciting, and during the course she read several reports from CTSS.

"When an opportunity opened up for a position as a research assistant, I applied for and got the position. So the teachers I had then are my colleagues now. My internship at the Swedish UN mission in New York certainly also contributed to my employment."

Networking one of the strengths of the Swedish Defence University

When Linda Ahlerup started studying the master's program, she got the tip to use these years to make contacts. She wants to share that tip with future students.

"The Swedish Defence University is a unique environment in that you have a clear opportunity to network with people who work with the issues you will work with in the future. These are small classes, so you really get to know your classmates and teachers."

"There are also many different actors moving around the building, both military and civilian, so here you make contacts for the future working life. On a personal level, I also met several of my closest friends during the master's program. That was obviously a very big bonus."

Unique connection between theory and practice

The fact that many of the Swedish Defence University's teachers work actively in the area in which they lecture is a bit special.

"It gave a connection between theory and practice that I think is difficult to get at other universities. And I appreciated being able to pick up courses myself based on interest. In this way, we created a unique education based on our choices."

What courses did you choose?

"I chose, among other things, political psychology and crisis management, terrorism studies and a course in intelligence studies – courses that all touch on what I work with today. But I also chose a course on special units, i.e. a war science course, to study something completely different."

She would like to encourage others to take the opportunity to test different perspectives.

"I'd probably say it's not that important to keep a straight line. For later, it is a great strength to be able to shift perspectives and be able to see issues from angles that you do not come into contact with in a regular political science program. Here you get the opportunity to test and pick up different types of inputs and perspectives."

Dare to apply for the internship you want

Linda Ahlerup has always been interested in intergovernmental cooperation and did her internship at the Swedish UN representation in New York.

"It was also one of the most fun experiences – to be able to apply what you read about on a practical level. I never thought I'd get it, but I still submitted an application. Therefore, my advice is to actually dare to seek what you most want."

"I was there when covid-19 came. Since I had studied crisis management, the representation was keen for me to be involved and experience both their own and the UN's handling in practice. It is an experience that I will always carry with me and for which I am very grateful.

She believes that you should see the internship semester as an opportunity to try something that you do not know how it works to see if it is something you want to work with in the future.

"Maybe a job you'd probably never get as a freshman? It is when you get into working life that the real learning begins and it is a great strength to be able to do an internship for a whole semester."

About the Master's Programme in Politics, Security and Crisis

She perceives the Swedish Defence University as a completely unique university and mentions in particular that it is a meeting place between civil and military. But also the unique range of courses, the many different perspectives and the teachers' competence:

"You are taught by teachers who have fantastic skills and in many cases have worked practically in their subjects."

"I find it hard to see that you could get this opportunity anywhere else. The Swedish Defence University also stands out by being a relatively small university, and this means that it will be a more personal education than you get at a larger university. You feel at home here," she concludes.

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