GP Short Notes # 737, 6 July 2023
Protests over Quran-burning in Sweden: A Profile
On 28 June, Salwan Momika, an Irani immigrant living in Sweden, burnt Quran outside the central mosque in Stockholm on the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the most important festivals in the Muslim calendar. According to the police, Momika had permission to protest according to the free speech laws. Later, police explained that an investigation is underway to enquire about “agitation against an ethnic group.” Following the Quran-burning protest and the stark criticisms raised against Sweden internationally, the government issued a statement saying that it “strongly rejects the Islamophobic act committed by individuals in Sweden,” and that it “in no way reflects the opinions of the Swedish Government.” The incident sparked varied responses within Sweden and many Muslim-majority countries that condemned the burning.
Repeated Quran burning protests and the influence of far-right politics
Sweden has witnessed such demonstrations in the last couple of years. The riots that broke out in Malmo in 2020 and in the various cities of Malmo, Norrkoping and Orebro in 2022 were instances of Islamophobia. They also marked the rise and the increasing influence of right-wing politics in Sweden.
The catalyst for these riots was Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish who established the far-right Stram Kurs, or Hard Line movement promoting anti-immigrant and anti-Islam agenda. In January 2023, another Quran-burning protest happened outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm by a far-right politician against Sweden’s NATO bid. In February 2023 Swedish police took steps to curb such actions citing security risk concerns. The Supreme Administrative Court, however, overturned the decision saying security risk concerns are not enough to limit the right to demonstrate. Thus, the debate in Sweden revolves around free speech laws and the prevailing Islamophobic narratives.
Opposition from the Muslim-majority countries:
The Muslim-majority countries have raised serious objections and concerns towards the repeated incidents of Quran burning in Sweden. Triggering widespread condemnation, these countries demanded the Swedish government impose bans on such actions hurting religious sentiments. The freedom of speech and expression debate is not well taken in the Islamic world and the recent incident has caused protesters to storm Swedish embassies in Ankara and Baghdad.
Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt strongly criticized the burning. Iran said the burning reflected “a hateful aggressive spirit that has nothing to do with freedom of expression.” Tehran also refrained from sending its ambassador to Stockholm. Iraq called it “provocative and unacceptable.” Saudi Arabia responded that “these hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted without any justification.” Morocco, Kuwait, UAE and Jordan recalled their ambassadors to Sweden. On 30 June, Shehbaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan called for a daylong protest to defend the sanctity of the Quran as the parliament discussed the burning of the Quran in Stockholm.
Karl Ritter and Jan M Olsen, “Quran burnings have Sweden torn between free speech and respecting minorities,” AP News, 05 July 2023
Susan Frazer, “Turkey says Quran burning in Sweden raises questions about its reliability as a possible NATO member,” AP News, 04 July 2023
Alys Davies, “Sweden Quran burning: Protesters storm embassy in Baghdad,” BBC News, 30 June 2023
“Sweden issues rare ban over Quran burning rally,” Deutsche Welle, 08 February 2023
“Dozens arrested at Sweden riots sparked by planned Quran burnings,” BBC News, 18 April 2022