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Normalizing Islamophobia under the garb of freedom of expression

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

By Maryam Qarehgozlou

The brazen desecration of Islamic sanctities in the name of freedom of expression and thought has been scandalously normalized in Western societies.

More recently, we witnessed it in Stockholm and The Hague, where the Holy Quran was desecrated in broad daylight, and as always Western countries not only remained mute spectators but became cheerleaders for it.

On January 23, Edwin Wagensveld, a far-right Dutch politician, a provocateur and leader of the Islamophobic group Pegida, tore pages from the Quran in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands.

Two days earlier, in another provocative act, far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, a dual Danish-Swedish national, known for his anti-Islam extremism, burned a copy of the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm under police protection and with permission from the authorities.

A week later, Paludan repeated the act, setting ablaze a copy of the revered Islamic book outside a mosque in Denmark, again under the police cover.

Naturally, it triggered anger, outrage and condemnation worldwide, in particular from Muslim-majority countries.

Despite the legitimate demand for legal action against such provocations that hurt the sentiments of 1.4 billion Muslims across the world, Western governments did nothing except for issuing face-saving statements.

Their inaction and indifference came under the garb of the freedom of speech and expression -- which gives them a license to brazenly insult and abuse Islam and Muslims and conveniently get away with it.

Anti-Muslim hate crimes primarily are aimed at provoking and hurting Muslim communities. In recent cases, the governments in question not only refused to criminalize the acts but also authorized them and provided protection.

Western media also kept mum except for reporting on reactions from the Muslim world. Their coverage was mainly focused on how this incident would potentially impact Sweden’s ambitious bid for NATO membership.

This indicates how Islamic religious values are compromised in rapidly secularizing Western societies.

Islamophobia prevails

Interestingly, some Western countries have blasphemy legislations that are designed to protect religious beliefs and prevent violation of those beliefs.

Blasphemy is defined as the act of speaking in a way that shows irreverence for God or sacred sanctities. In some European countries, it is a punishable crime. Punishment ranges from fines to prison sentences.

However, in 2017, Denmark repealed its blasphemy law, and the last Swedish laws against blasphemy were annulled in the seventies. It was replaced by a new law called “agitation against a specific group of people” which does not protect religions but their practitioners.

The Netherlands, France, Greece, England, Wales, Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Scotland are also among the countries that repealed the law.

Some other European countries like Germany are also contemplating taking a similar step.

In fact, even in countries where the law is enacted, it does not necessarily extend to all insults against religions and the desecration of the Holy Quran.

Unfortunately, decriminalizing such hate crimes and continued disregard for insults against Islam and desecration of its sanctities, ostensibly to defend freedom of expression, is bound to result in Islamophobia and Islamophobia-linked crimes and even killings.

In July 2021, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) announced that Canada has seen more mass killings motivated by Islamophobia in the last five years than any other country in the Group of Seven (G7).

In January 2017, the Quebec City Mosque shooting left six worshippers dead and 19 injured. It was one of the deadliest mass murders in Canadian history.

In August 2022, a string of killings of Muslim men in New Mexico in the US state of New Mexico sent shockwaves through Muslim communities across the country.

A paradoxical standard

While European countries are taking steps to decriminalize blasphemy and encourage Islamophobia and anti-Islamism, their stance on anti-Semitism remains clear.

Holocaust denial is a criminal offense in many EU member states, including Germany, Greece, France, and the Netherlands, among others.

In some European countries, Holocaust denial is punishable by months to years of imprisonment.

In April 2021, Sweden’s Minister of Justice Morgan Johansson said he firmly believes that Holocaust denial ought to be made illegal in his country, announcing that the government had established a parliamentary committee to look into the issue in greater detail.

By the same standard, cartoonists, editors and publishers of the French "satirical" magazine Charlie Hebdo who have made a habit of mocking Islamic figures and sanctities should also be detained and put on trial.

But unfortunately, prejudice against Muslims has been essentially normalized and Western double standards in this regard are only fueling the flames of Islamophobia.


Maryam Qarehgozlou is a Tehran-based journalist who has extensively covered environment, health, technology and Middle East affairs since 2015.

(The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Press TV.)

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