How Quran-Burning Turned into a Diplomatic Nightmare for Sweden

Six months after a far-right Swedish-Danish activist and politician enraged the entire Muslim community by publicly burning the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, another Quran-burning stunt occurred in the capital, this time during the celebration of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

The person responsible for this latest Quran-burning publicity stunt was not a far-right provocateur like Rasmus Paludan but a refugee from Iraq identified as Salwan Momika. He performed the act outside the Stockholm Central Mosque on June 28th while Muslims were celebrating the Feast of Sacrifice, which commemorates the willingness of Abraham to follow God’s command by attempting to sacrifice his son.

Momika began the stunt by walking near the mosque behind rows of police officers outside the building, waving two Swedish flags while blasting the country’s national anthem through a speaker system. He then started desecrating the Quran by tearing it up and lighting it on fire with the cigarette he was holding.

The Iraqi refugee also laid a strip of bacon on the Quran and began stomping on it. Another man with Momika spoke to the crowd with a megaphone. Momika has been pushing for the Islamic holy book to be banned in Sweden.

While the display was supposed to antagonize the Muslim community in Sweden and rile them up, especially during a very important holiday like Eid al-Adha, the Quran-burning publicity stunt was mostly mocked, dismissed, or even ignored by the 200 people that gathered outside.

Instead, members of the Muslim community gave the police stationed outside the mosque chocolates and had a conversation with them while Momika was speaking through the microphone in Arabic.

A few people insulted Momika, especially when he attempted to set the Quran on fire with his cigarette. Some comments hurled at him even drew laughter from the crowd, notably when some shouted “Speak Swedish” at Momika, mocking him for playing the Swedish national anthem out loud and waving the Swedish flag but seemingly unable to speak the language.

A group of teenage boys also swore at Momika and the unidentified man behind the police cordon. One of them even asked a police officer if he was good, to which the officer replied, “Just hot,” with a smile.

One of the people in the crowd, a 32-year-old financial manager named Avsan Mezori, said, “I feel bad for him [Momika], not for us,” and added that as a Muslim, “what I have in me, he can’t take; I don’t want to give him the attention.

Another person in the crowd, a Libyan political activist named Husam El Gomati, described the act as a “trick” intended to evoke strong emotions from Muslims and “portray Muslims as violent.

He said Momika chose to perform his act during Eid al-Adha to “plant hate,” but he was proud of the Muslim community for not reacting and remaining calm.

Still, some people tried to incite the largely calm crowd, including a woman holding a cross in the air while rambling monologues. A man also attempted to break through the police cordon and hurl stones at Momika. The man was arrested before he could even carry out his attack.

The recent Quran-burning incidents in Sweden have jeopardized its diplomatic relations with Muslim countries, particularly Turkiye. Turkiye even threatened to vote against Sweden's application to join NATO over Rasmus Paludan's act of burning the Quran as a protest.

Although NATO's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg recently admitted that the incidents, while offensive and objectionable, are not necessarily illegal in a country like Sweden, the UN's secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the Quran-burning act after a call with Iraq's deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister.

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