Sweden is under fire. Since the holy book Quran was desecrated in Sweden again, on July 20th outside the Iraqi embassy in Stockholm, the Islamic world has targeted the nation. The anger is so intense that Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is threatening now his country would not back Sweden’s accession to NATO. Mr Erdogan is accusing Sweden of indifference as desecration of the Quran goes on in the name of free speech in the Scandinavian country.

A Flood of Threats Unleashed

With Turkey’s renewed displeasure, Sweden’s credentials for NATO membership have come under a cloud. Despite his earlier nod to Sweden’s admission to NATO, Mr Erdogan is having second thoughts now. He is saying Sweden would have to take more steps to earn the support of Turkey’s parliament. Caught between Turkey’s ultimatum to crack down on desecrators and upholding free speech, Sweden finds itself in a fresh dilemma. https://poliphoon.com/a-bogey-unyolked/

The dilemma has turned worse after Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked Sweden to hand over the desecrators to the ‘judicial systems’ of Islamic nations. As copies of the Quran were burnt in Sweden, similar sacrileges happened in Denmark too. This has unleashed a flood of threats from enraged Iraq. Though Iraq restrained itself from threatening to sever diplomatic ties with Denmark, the fury over Quran burning was boiling over into a regional crisis. https://www.reuters.com/world/koran-burners-should-be- handed-over-prosecution-irans-khamenei-says-2023-07-22/

Video Courtesy: YouTube/Associated Press

Legal but not Appropriate

Despite the crisis, public desecrations of the Quran are happening in Sweden. Inevitably, such sacrileges end up in bloody riots, bruised diplomacy and unsavoury global spotlight for Sweden. As instances of Quran’s desecration rise, tolerant Sweden is turning fast into a turbulent society. The phenomenal rise in the number of requests for permission to burn the Quran in Sweden confirms what began as a stray incident in 2020 is now a national crisis.

The crisis is further confirmed by Swedish prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who is ‘extremely concerned’ by the spate of Quran-burning incidents. “It is legal, but not appropriate,” says Mr Kristersson. Sweden’s concerns are rising fast as its embassies are torched across the Islamic world. On 20th July, the Swedish embassy in Iraqi capital Baghdad was set on fire. In a tit-for-tat, Iraq expelled the Swedish ambassador in Baghdad and recalled its own from Stockholm. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-66052670

The Rise of Anti-Muslim Fanatics

Though diplomatic expulsions help Sweden condemn the new surge in anti-Muslim acts on its soil, Islamic nations are not convinced about Sweden’s real intentions. They point fingers at Sweden continuing to allow burnings of the Quran in the name of freedom of expression. The Islamic nations see a double-talker in Sweden. As they hold such a negative view of Sweden, their perceptions are bringing up a host of larger issues to the fore. Clearly, Sweden is in a spot.

As Sweden’s right-wing nationalists turn more aggressive in torching copies of the Quran, the larger issues are not going away. Anti-Muslim fanatics are rising, even within Sweden’s society and political system. Rasmus Paludan, the conservative Danish-Swedish politician and leader of the far-right Danish party Stram Kurs, aka Hard Line, is notorious of them all. He has fed copies of the Quran to flames several times in the past decade. His latest was in January this year. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/humanrights/2023/07/06/burning-the- quran-in-sweden-hatred-or-freedom/

A Me-Too Show of Muslim Hatred

Mr Paludan is not alone in this. He has the Christian Iraqi refugee Salwan Momika for company. Mr Momika is hellbent on drawing global attention to persecution of Christian minorities by Islamic extremists in Arab nations. He calls the Quran a dangerous book and sets it ablaze, often before and during important Islamic holidays of Eid. He loves to rail against Muslims for robbing and killing Christians and Kafirs, the infidels. https://www.newarab.com/news/who-salwan-momika-infamous- iraqi-who-burnt-quran

Thanks to the bigotry of the likes of Mr Paludan and Mr Momika, Islamophobia is a contagion in Europe today. Anti-Islamic fires lit in Sweden have spread to Denmark. In a me-too show of Muslim hatred, far-right Danish nationalists too are burning the Quran. They did this recently outside the Iraqi Embassy. In retaliation, Iraqis raided the Danish Embassy in Baghdad. These hate crimes are morphing fast into a major crisis for the already-fragile Arab-Scandinavian relations.

The Impracticality of Clinging

As these burn-the-Quran campaigns get bigger and bolder in Scandinavian nations, they are triggering global debates on the hows and the whys of free-speech guarantees. Questions are being raised over the wisdom of upholding freedom of expression at the cost of earning reprisals from Arab nations and the larger freedom-loving liberal world. As ugly Quran-burning rallies inevitably end in global displeasure, rationalist geopoliticians have come to doubt Sweden’s value system that revolves around protection of the freedom of expression at the cost of its NATO membership.

They confess it is impractical for Sweden to cling on to the Jeffersonian ideal when it is maiming its global reputation. Sweden is unmoved by such scepticism. Sweden’s counter-argument is that it is known for its constitutional protection of freedom of speech. The Scandinavian country is not hesitating to draw attention to the fact that it was among the first few European nations to constitutionally guarantee the right to freedom of the press. https://apnews.com/article/sweden-security-quran-desecrations- protests-muslims-2478da0af73606fcb37984392c521faf

The Neo-Nazi Swedish Democrats

Sweden might have abrogated its anti-blasphemy laws in the 1970s. But, hate speech against minorities continues to be criminalised. Even when the Swedish government denies permission to burn the Quran, though rare, on perceived terror reactions, Swedish courts do not hesitate to disagree with the government. Inescapably, the current spate of Quran-burning incidents is making Sweden quite worried, as its relations with Muslims are moving from being ‘tolerant’ to ‘hostile’.

A look at Swedish Democrats confirms this transition. Swedish Democrats is an abrasive anti-immigrant party draped in neo-Nazi colours. As this second-largest party in the Swedish parliament is a hardcore Islamaphobe, hate for Muslims is bound to rise to feverish levels in Sweden. This is why many Swedes favour tweaking their nation’s laws for effective crackdown on bigots who burn the Quran. These Swedes want a ban on the burning of the Islamic holy book. https://www.dw.com/en/swedish-election-the-astonishing-rise- of-the-right-wing-sweden-democrats/a-63100694

Turkey is Leading the Arab Attack

However, Swedish constitutional experts believe the nation’s hate-speech laws should be so strictly enforced that a blanket ban on burning the Quran may not be needed. To them, uncompromised enforcement should safeguard civil liberties that are at the centre of Sweden’s founding principles. Notably, such an approach may even obviate the need to revisit blasphemy laws in a new avatar. This argument is reasonably appealing.

However, the Islamic world is not prepared to listen to any of these. The fanatically-religious conglomerate of Arab states loves to slam Sweden and the laxity it shows towards Quran-burners. Self-appointed Turkey is leading the Arab attack. President Erdogan is saying that his country would not support Sweden’s accession to NATO. His logic is that Sweden continues to allow torching of the Quran, despite fully knowing how it hurts Arab nations’ religious sensitivities. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/12/world/europe/erdogan- turkey-sweden-nato.html

Deviations Become Triggers

The bottom line is clear. The louder the anti-Sweden tirade gets, greater is the excitement among Islamaphobes. Fresh shots of adrenalin are egging them on to feed more copies of the Quran to flames. Acts of defiance widen the gulf between the West and the Islamic world, between Christianity and Islam. At a time when inter-faith accommodation, tolerance of faiths and religious inclusivism are needed, burnings of the Quran take the world far away from these goals. https://www.trtworld.com/opinion/the-burning-of-the-quran- why-sweden-is-headed-for-disaster-12777896

As flames of bigotry continue to lick copies of the Quran, such deviations become triggers for global storms. Concerned, peaceniks are asking questions. Is limitless liberalism promoting religious exclusivism and extremism? Why are States patronising sectarianism? Why are those in power striving to cling on to their seats by propagating divisive ideologies? Why do politicians remain passive when sectarian crimes happen? These questions make sense for most conflict zones in the world today.

In Conclusion

A few more questions need to be asked. Is freedom of expression independent of social responsibility? Is this freedom beyond regulation? Shouldn’t this freedom be checked when socio-communal cordiality and enduring inter-religious amity ought to be a nation’s prime objective? Why shouldn’t rabid political parties, like Sweden’s Stram Kurs, be restrained? Why shy away from checking the spread of Islamophobic groups?

What is the rationale behind allowing groups like Lars Thorsen’s Stop Islamisation of Norway? How does allowing these groups help the larger interests of a nation? Even as these questions continue to haunt Europe, Quran-burnings are happening with revolting regularity in Sweden, Denmark and elsewhere in Scandinavia. These anti-Islamic conspiracies are a part of a well-orchestrated plan. Defeating this plan is more important than upholding freedom of expression.