Quran Burnings in Sweden Escalate Tensions Between Muslim Countries and Nordic Nations

Since the previous year, instances of discrimination against Muslims have transpired in Sweden and other Nordic nations, which have evoked profound discontent from Muslim countries. With the recent occurrence of Quran burnings in Sweden and elsewhere, Muslim nations have initiated boycotts against the diplomatic and commercial endeavors of Nordic countries, and the confrontation between the two factions appears to be escalating.

Frequent “Incidents of Combustion” in Sweden

Last year, Danish politician Rasmus Paludan embarked on a tour of several Swedish cities to incinerate copies of the Quran, resulting in widespread riots and condemnation from numerous Muslim countries. Turkish President Erdogan even declared that if Sweden persists in permitting the burning of the Quran, it should not anticipate being able to join NATO.

However, on July 20 of this year, Salwan Momika, a 36-year-old man from Iraq who had obtained refugee status in Sweden, defiled the Quran outside the Iraqi Embassy in Sweden. On June 28, Salwan Momika besmirched the Quran with bacon in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Sweden, trampled upon it with his feet, and subsequently set it ablaze. He asserted that the book was “more perilous than a nuclear weapon.”

This incident ignited vehement protests from numerous Muslim countries. The Swedish embassy in Iraq was swiftly besieged by Iraqi individuals, and the embassy building was set alight by enraged individuals. According to officials at the Finnish embassy, which shares the embassy compound with Sweden, a majority of the embassy compound structures were engulfed in flames. Iraq recalled its ambassador to Sweden, imposed an expulsion order on the Swedish ambassador to Iraq, and declared the termination of all commercial cooperation with Sweden.

The foreign ministries of many Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran, also summoned the Swedish ambassador to their respective countries to register stern protests and vehement condemnations regarding the burning of the Quran. The Lebanese authorities urged all Arab and Islamic nations to withdraw their ambassadors from Sweden. Turkey denounced Sweden’s “abhorrent assault” on the Quran, and its foreign ministry stated that Sweden must take measures to prevent hate crimes against Islam.

Where lie the confines of “freedom of expression”?

The Quran constitutes the foundation of Islamic doctrine and law, playing an exceedingly significant role. For adherents of Islam, the Quran embodies their faith, spirit, and spiritual pillar. Burning the Quran evidently represents an overt challenge to the authority and dignity of Islam, while also evincing disrespect towards Islamic culture and beliefs.

In reality, approximately six months after Turkey issued a warning to Sweden asserting that it would be unable to join NATO, the Swedish police declined any requests to burn the Quran on the grounds that it would “endanger national security.” However, subsequently, the Swedish police were brought before the Swedish Administrative Court, which ruled that the justification provided by the police for “endangering national security” was insufficient and contravened the “freedom of expression” stipulations delineated in the constitution. Although the Swedish police once again appealed for reconsideration, the appellate court upheld the original verdict.

Similar to numerous Western nations, Sweden lacks any “blasphemy laws” and does not explicitly proscribe the burning or desecration of the Quran or other religious texts. Although the Swedish government released a statement professing its “strong opposition to Islamophobic acts perpetrated by individuals in Sweden,” further stating that the allowance of Quran burnings “in no way reflects the views of the Swedish government,” this stance has also elicited criticism from numerous Swedish commentators and social activists.

Ruzibe Pals, a researcher at the Middle East and North Africa Program within the Swedish Foreign Policy Institute, posits that Quran burnings are intertwined with Sweden’s domestic comprehension of the boundaries of freedom of expression and the role of religion within society. Pals opines that those who engage in Quran burnings seek to portray Muslims as “intolerant” and aim to underscore the anti-immigration position of the Swedish populace. According to Pals, it is currently exceedingly arduous for the Swedish government to proscribe the burning of the Quran.

Notwithstanding this, the extreme behavior within Sweden has engendered criticism and introspection within the European Union. Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, vehemently condemned the burning of the Quran and religious animosity, asserting that “(Burning the Islamic holy book) is offensive, disrespectful, and an unmistakable provocation.” “Not everything that is legal is moral.”

Immigration issues heighten conflicts

In addition to Sweden, Denmark and Finland have also recently experienced a series of disputes pertaining to Muslim matters. On July 21, a video depicting the burning of religious texts in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, circulated on social media. In the video, an individual burned religious texts in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Denmark, while gesturing in a derogatory and provocative manner towards the Iraqi flag. This immediately triggered protests by Iraqi individuals in front of the Danish Embassy in Iraq. Danish public broadcaster reported subsequent attacks on a Danish charity organization located in the Iraqi cityof Basra. In Finland, Finance Minister Rika Pula has faced criticism from numerous Muslim religious groups due to past racist remarks.

In a Nordic society that prides itself on freedom and tolerance, from where do these sentiments of hatred and antipathy towards Muslims emanate? Analysis posits that apart from deep-seated religious discrimination among certain individuals in Northern Europe, it also reflects the mounting pressures imposed on Nordic countries by the growth of Muslim immigrant communities.

In recent years, Nordic countries have grappled with issues such as population decline, aging populations, diminishing birth rates, and a dwindling working-age populace. Consequently, there exists an urgent need for foreign labor or taxpayers to bolster national fiscal revenue, stimulate economic development, and uphold the social welfare system. Consequently, the Muslim community has flocked to these nations in substantial numbers. Official Finnish statistics reveal that there are presently nearly 510,000 foreigners residing in Finland, accounting for approximately 9.1% of the total population, with approximately 130,000 being Muslim immigrants. The proportion of foreign immigrants in Sweden reaches 26.9%, and more than half of the immigrant population practices Islam.

During this period, in an endeavor to protect and accommodate immigrants, the left-wing governments of numerous European countries insisted on guaranteeing “employment” conditions within Europe, with an emphasis on the accessibility, welfare, security, and living conditions of immigrant laborers. However, these efforts lacked prudent and effective immigration management policies, resulting in social issues stemming from cultural differences and clashes of ideologies being exacerbated. This has even given rise to the argument of “Muslims invading Europe.” A multitude of complex factors intertwine, ultimately leading to a deepening of social conflicts.

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