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HomeNews‘It’s a Racism Crisis’: Call for Action on Qur’an Burnings in Sweden

‘It’s a Racism Crisis’: Call for Action on Qur’an Burnings in Sweden


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Standing in the sunshine with friends in a park overlooked by Stockholm mosque, Sofia said she was becoming tired of the debates around freedom of expression that followed Qur’an burnings in the Swedish capital.

The 36-year-old, who works in adult education, said she felt as if her religion was often cast as the problem, rather than the people behind the burnings.

“We are born and raised here over several generations, but they [the government] don’t talk about Muslims as if we are part of Sweden,” she said. “We contribute. We are lawyers, doctors, journalists, healthcare, normal people who are part of Sweden.”

In the latest of a string of protests in Sweden and Denmark in which copies of the Qur’an have been burned or otherwise damaged, two men set fire to the Qur’an outside the Swedish parliament on Monday. The burnings have prompted a domestic debate about the limits of Sweden’s exceptionally liberal freedom of expression laws and intensified a diplomatic row between Sweden and Muslim countries around the world.

“It’s called a ‘Qur’an crisis’,” Sofia said. “It’s not a Qur’an crisis, this is a … racism crisis.”

The two women standing either side of her voiced their agreement.

“They turn it on us as if it’s a crisis that Muslims have, but we haven’t gone and burnt somebody’s book,” Sofia added.

Salwan Momika and Salwan Najem, the two Iraqi men responsible for Monday’s burning, also burned a Qur’an outside Stockholm mosque on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha in June.

On Tuesday, Ulf Kristersson, the Swedish prime minister, accused outsiders of exploiting the country’s freedom of expression laws to spread hate and of “dragging Sweden into international conflicts”. He also blamed disinformation for the outrage around the burnings.

Kristersson ruled out reducing Sweden’s legal protections for freedom of expression – which are among the strongest globally – but said his government would consider changes that would allow police to stop Qur’an burnings if they posed a threat to national security.

Chafiya Kharraki, a 45-year-old teacher, said she did not buy Kristersson’s claim that disinformation was to blame and that she thought Sweden needed to “take responsibility for its actions”.

“It is real life events that have caused the outrage,” she said. “People won’t take it, they won’t swallow it. It is not OK.”

Her friend, who did not want to be identified, said there was no need to change the law, but that it was a question of interpretation. She feared that plans by the government – a minority-coalition run by the Moderates with the support of far-right Sweden Democrats – to look at changing public order laws could pose a threat to democracy.

“Fascists are fascists, you can’t wait for them to be something else. The Sweden Democrats and this minority government is driving its agenda and we aren’t even being spoken of,” the woman said. “Burn the Qur’an and then they can say Islamophobia is bad but they have no plans to stop Islamophobia.”

Imam Mahmoud Khalfi, a spokesperson for Stockholm mosque, where 600-700 people come to pray every day, said: “Every time, you wait for this absurdity that nobody supports to be put to a stop. It’s just negative and has dangerous consequences.”

Khalfi said he had received lots of phone calls in recent months from people who wanted to talk about their feelings about the Qur’an burnings, which he said had “nothing to do with freedom of expression”.

According to a new poll, the recent burnings may have helped to extend the opposition’s lead to 11 percentage points, their biggest since last September’s election.

Near the mosque in Södermalm, people were making the most of the sun after days of rain, sitting outside with a drink or watching their children play. While there was widespread condemnation of the Qur’an burning among those the Guardian spoke to, there was disagreement over the best way to prevent it from happening.

Nora, 16, said she did not understand the burnings, which she described as unnecessary. Asked whether they should be banned, the student sighed. “That’s a hard one,” she said. “Freedom of expression is really important to a certain degree, but when it starts to violate other people it’s not right.”

Rather than changing Sweden’s freedom of expression laws, she suggested using hate speech laws differently. She said she had seen a lot of support for Qur’an burning on social media, but was strongly against it. “I don’t support it at all because it is basically violating another group of people. I don’t know how you can support that.”

For Inge Zurcher, 79, however, a ban made sense. “It’s awful. It shouldn’t be allowed,” she said, adding that the government did not “understand what damage they’re doing to Sweden and to Muslims”.

Tal Domankewitz, 39, a tourist guide, said there should be limits to Sweden’s freedom of expression laws. “There are some cases where you have to think again and not let it happen. It has to be limited.”

Meanwhile, Abdi Ibrahim, 44, a social worker, said the burnings were ruining Sweden’s reputation in the world. “It feels like most people have the same perception, that freedom of expression is good but that it should not violate others. You can express your views in another way.”

Iman Omer, 20, a Muslim, who was out and about with her sister Monica, said it should be possible to classify the Qur’an burnings as a hate crime. “I understand you are allowed to think and feel what you want, this is a free country, but there must be boundaries,” she said. “It’s such a pity that it has happened so many times and Sweden doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes.”

Source: The Guardian


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