After massive protests in Muslim countries against the burning of the Quran in Sweden and Denmark, the heads of government of both countries have announced that they will examine how they can limit such actions in the future. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he was in close contact with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. We are “in the most difficult security situation since the Second World War” and must absolutely prevent third parties from exploiting this.
In Sweden and Denmark there have been several actions in recent weeks in which a Quran has been damaged or burned. This caused outrage among Muslims and led to diplomatic upheavals. The Swedish embassy in Baghdad was stormed and set on fire by angry demonstrators, and the office of a Danish aid organization working in Iraq was attacked. Several countries in the Middle East summoned the ambassadors of Sweden and Denmark. Saudi Arabia and Iraq convened a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC condemned allowing the demonstrations and called on its member states to consider “appropriate measures” against any country where burning or otherwise desecrating the Quran is permitted. Each member country should be free to decide whether to impose economic sanctions and/or take diplomatic and cultural policy measures. Kuwait announced that it would print 100,000 Qurans in Swedish and distribute them in Sweden to “promote Muslim principles and values”.
Like Kristersson, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen cited security concerns to justify why the government is considering restricting the burning of the Quran. He also referred to the risk of his country losing its reputation in Muslim countries. Religions may be criticized, but standing in front of a foreign embassy and burning a Quran serves “no purpose other than mockery,” he said. His ministry had previously announced that it was examining a restriction on the right to assembly, “of course within the framework of the constitutionally protected freedom of expression”.
In Sweden and Denmark, this is viewed as a high value, especially with regard to criticism of religions. For a long time, criticism of religion in Denmark was primarily criticism of the Christian religions. But with the immigration of Muslims, Islam has increasingly become the target of criticism. Many Muslims living in Denmark have gotten used to it, although not all are willing to share the “dry Protestant view of freedom of expression”. However, Denmark has yet to learn that this is increasingly being negotiated at international level. In Muslim countries, where criticism of religion and politics is not allowed, the news of the burning of the Quran is hardly compatible with the general world view. In the so-called cartoon crisis of 2005 about Mohammed cartoons published in Denmark, the country did not want to admit this, but now the Danish foreign minister is apparently trying to proceed more cautiously, says a religious scholar. Denmark’s economic interests in Muslim states certainly also played a role – just as there are attempts in Muslim states to profit from such provocations by building up diplomatic pressure. This was recently observed in the struggle for Sweden to join NATO and the resistance of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Sweden wants to examine whether the law on public order can be changed to make it easier for the police to break up demonstrations burning the Koran in the future. Most recently, another such event took place in front of the Parliament in Stockholm. Iraqi activists Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem first stepped on a Quran and then set several pages of it on fire. Police had previously said they only give permits for public gatherings, not the content of those gatherings.
In mid-July, a Syrian announced that he would burn a Torah and a Bible in front of the Israeli embassy in Stockholm. On the Saturday of the alleged cremation, the pale little man stood in the midst of a crowd of journalists, police officers and onlookers and said he had never intended to light a holy book, he just wanted to protest vigorously that others were doing it, you just don’t do that . Then he strode away, back into anonymity. But the journalists called their editorial offices to give the all-clear, fortunately nothing happened, and so it was hardly reported on.
Salwan Momika, whose name every child in Sweden now knows thanks to regular reporting, set fire to a Quran for the third time this summer. As at the other two events, he combined the burning with other gestures of humiliation and provocative acts, trampling on the Quran and tearing out pages. However, this time he refrained from kicking the book around like putting a ball or strips of bacon between the pages.
Instead, the 37-year-old stepped up to a picture of Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose followers had twice stormed the Swedish embassy in Baghdad in response to Momika’s previous burns. And he held up a Swedish flag several times for the cameras, after all, according to his own words, he is doing the whole thing in defense of freedom of expression here. He will continue with his actions until Sweden understands “that the Quran encourages violence,” he told the daily Dagens Nyheter. The book must finally be banned because it calls for violence and murder.
Salwan Momika comes from Iraq and describes himself as a political refugee who arrived in Sweden in 2019. In April 2021 he received a residence permit for three years in Sweden. An investigation is now underway against him because he is said to have threatened a roommate with a knife in the summer of 2021. On July 11, the Swedish Migration Board also launched a procedure to examine whether Momika should have his protection status and residence permit revoked. As for the reasons, the authority only lets it be known that they have “received information from the public”.
As in Baghdad, Muslims in many Islamic countries protested indignantly against the burning of the Quran in Sweden. Pictures are circulating online that allegedly show Momika in earlier years in Iraq. As a result, he held a leadership role in a Christian militia group said to have been backed by Iran against ISIS. Momika says the Iraqi government is spreading lies about him, that he was the leader of the Syrian Democratic Party in Iraq, not a member of a militia. He told the newspaper Aftonbladet that he wanted to stand as a member of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats in the next parliamentary elections. He has been a member for a year and says he is “proud of the party, which is the only one that defends Sweden and Swedish values”.
Momika shares his proximity to the Sweden Democrats with the other pyromaniac serial demonstrator: Rasmus Paludan. The Danish right-wing extremist convicted of incitement to hatred, who also has Swedish citizenship, had Chang Frick pay the registration fees for his Quran burning in front of the Turkish embassy in February of this year. In turn, he runs a right-wing populist online magazine and is a moderator on the Riks channel of the Sweden Democrats.
Rasmus Paludan founded the Stram Course in Denmark, which means hard line. The party wants to expel all Muslims. He reported six Quran burnings in the spring of 2022 in order to point out the Swedish government’s failure to integrate immigrants while on a tour of Sweden and at the same time to criticize the religion of Islam. For the demonstrations, he chose neighborhoods with a high proportion of immigrants. There were violent counter-protests and more than 300 police officers were injured.
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