Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan resigned after reports that he had contacts with ultra-nationalists and Islamists [Jessica Gow/TT via AP]
The behaviour of some Muslim members of Sweden's Green Party - part of a coalition government - has sparked concerns among the Swedish that the small environmentalist group may have been infiltrated by "Islamists".
"In our eagerness to embrace a diverse and multicultural society, we have turned a blind eye to undemocratic views," said Gulan Avci, a politician for the Liberals, a centre-right opposition party.
The party’s problems started when one member refused to shake hands with a female journalist. Another compared Israel to Nazi Germany. A third was seen doing hand signs associated with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood in the background of a live TV broadcast.
Green Party leaders said on Monday there was no evidence of Islamists influencing party policies.
Housing Minister Mehmet Kaplan, a Green Party member and former leader of a Swedish Muslim youth group, resigned last week after media reports that he had contacts with ultra-nationalists and Islamists in his native Turkey.
"In our eagerness to embrace a diverse and multicultural society, we have turned a blind eye to undemocratic views,"
Gulan Avci, a lawmaker for the Liberals
He denied any wrongdoing and the party leadership defended him until the end, but he stepped down when a video surfaced of Kaplan comparing Israel's treatment of Palestinians to how the Nazis persecuted Jews.
Later, new images emerged in which Kaplan and other Muslim members of the Green Party were seen holding up four fingers, a hand gesture used by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
One of them, a Green Party youth leader, walked into the picture during a live broadcast on Swedish television and flashed the sign behind the presenter.
The gesture is not illegal in Sweden, but many Green Party members questioned whether the brotherhood's conservative views are compatible with the feminist and gay-friendly platform of the Swedish Greens.
Green Party co-leader Asa Romson described the September 11 attacks as "accidents" in a TV interview. She later clarified that she condemns the attacks.
The biggest outcry came after Yasri Khan, a 30-year-old running for a seat on the Green Party's executive board, refused to shake the hand of a Swedish TV reporter.
He said shaking hands with someone from the opposite sex is too "intimate", and instead put his hand on his heart in a Muslim greeting.
A debate ensued in Sweden, with Khan's critics calling his behaviour insulting to women and his supporters dismissing the criticism as Islamophobia.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven weighed in, saying that in Sweden "you shake hands with both women and men".
Khan withdrew his candidacy for the Green Party executive board and also quit his seats on a regional board and city council.
He told the AP news agency he was keeping his party membership for now, though he questioned whether practising Muslims are still welcome in the party.
"I think the Green Party needs to work on their inclusive values," he said. "How do you combine diversity and religion with an ethnocentric and prejudiced idea of gender equality?"
Asked whether he would describe himself as an Islamist, he said he did not even know what the word meant.
"If it means a practising Muslim who is contributing to politics, then I'm an Islamist - or was, since I'm leaving. But if it means a terrorist or against gender equality then I am as far away from an Islamist as you can get," Khan said.