Several Muslim countries have condemned Sweden over an incident where a far-right Danish-Swedish politician and activist held an anti-Islam demonstration and burned the Quran in front of the Turkish Embassy in the capital Stockholm.
41-year-old Rasmus Paludan, also the head of the far-right Danish party Stram Kurs, was permitted by Swedish police to hold the protest, which was surrounded by authorities.
During the demonstration, the far-right activist made derogatory comments about Islam and immigrants. Paludan then burned a copy of the Quran. Although this was not the first time Paludan held anti-Islam demonstrations where he burned the Quran, the act still sparked outrage across the Muslim world, especially in Turkey.
The protest also seemed to have come at the wrong time when historically, non-aligned Sweden is seeking to apply to be a new member of NATO along with Finland amidst Russia’s continuing aggression on Ukraine. To gain membership, all 30 member-states must ratify their application to join NATO, including Turkey.
Turkish President Erdogan warned Sweden not to expect his backing to join NATO following the burning of the Quran outside Ankara’s embassy in Stockholm https://t.co/iJrY46TgwU pic.twitter.com/0tuo3rWigC
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 24, 2023
As Sweden attempted to improve its relations with Turkey to secure its place in the military alliance, their ties were complicated further by Paludan’s protest and another demonstration held by pro-Kurdish activists last Saturday.
During the protests, pro-Kurdish activists waved flags of various Kurdish groups and the PKK, a left-wing Kurdish party branded by Turkey, the US, and the EU as a terrorist group. The demonstrators also stepped on a photo of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In response to these two protests, Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar canceled a meeting with his Swedish counterpart Pål Jonson scheduled on January 27. Akar said the meeting no longer held “any importance or point” since the Swedish government allowed “disgusting” protests against Turkey.
Press Release Regarding the Burning of the Holy Quran in Sweden https://t.co/zKDfN1FiEu pic.twitter.com/wzAb79jlfw
— Turkish MFA (@MFATurkiye) January 21, 2023
Jonson posted a Tweet stating that he had met Akar in Germany, and they “agreed to postpone” the planned meeting in Ankara. Jonson also said that Sweden’s relations with Turkey are crucial, and he’s looking forward to discussing security and defense issues later.
Yesterday I met with my Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany. We decided then to postpone the planned meeting in Ankara until later. (1/2)
— Pål Jonson (@PlJonson) January 21, 2023
Protests broke out in Istanbul and Ankara due to Paludan’s act. Demonstrators flocked to the Swedish Embassy in Turkey, where they held the Quran, shouted slogans and chants, and burned a photo of Paludan. Other Turkish officials slammed Swedish authorities for allowing Paludan to conduct his protest, with Turkey’s Foreign Ministry describing it as an “outright hate crime.”
Swedish foreign minister Tobias Billström acknowledged that while Sweden has far-reaching freedom of expression, it doesn’t mean the Swedish government agrees with the opinions expressed by the protesters.
Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s prime minister, also conceded that while freedom of expression is essential to democracies, he stated that “what is legal is not necessarily appropriate” and described acts of burning holy books as “a deeply disrespectful act.”
Other Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Somalia, and Kuwait, have condemned Paludan’s actions. In other Muslim-majority countries, such as Bangladesh, protests have broken out over the incident. The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations' high representative has also released a statement condemning the protest, calling it a “vile act.”
Clashes erupted between protesters and Iraqi security forces who were protecting the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad on Monday, days after Danish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan burned a Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Sweden. #Quran #Sweden pic.twitter.com/xVS5fQ3DiF
— 5Pillars (@5Pillarsuk) January 24, 2023