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Desecration of Quran normalized in Europe under guise of ‘free speech’

By Reza Javadi

The self-proclaimed “campaigners of freedom and democracy” in the West are at it again – abusing religious sanctities and hurting the religious sentiments of people under the guise of “freedom of expression” and "free speech."

In the latest case, and yet again, the Holy Quran was desecrated by a far-right extremist in the Swedish capital last week, coinciding with the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, during a demonstration in front of a mosque authorized by local law enforcement agencies.

As Muslims worldwide were celebrating the festival of sacrifice, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old man of Iraqi origin who fled to Sweden several years ago, tore up and lit pages of the Quran on fire outside the Stockholm Central Mosque, in an event coordinated with the Swedish government.

The blasphemous act drew widespread condemnation from across the world, with Muslim leaders slamming the move as provocative and reprehensible.

Desecration of Holy Quran in Europe

The desecration of Islam’s holiest scripture, the last revealed text to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), is not a new phenomenon across Europe, where it has been normalized in the name of “freedom of speech.”

In Sweden itself, such incidents have become very dangerously common. In January, Rasmus Paludan, the leader of the Danish far-right party Stram Kure, was seen desecrating a copy of the Holy Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm during a protest authorized by the Swedish police.

Iran strongly condemned the incident at the time and described it as an attempt to fan hatred and violence against Muslims while accusing Europeans of allowing extremists to spread hatred against Islamic sanctities “under the false pretext of advocating freedom of speech.”

Also in January, a Dutch politician in the city of The Hague tore apart a copy of the Holy Quran, which also drew widespread condemnation across the Muslim world.

In another incident in Denmark, in March 2023, an extremist anti-Muslim far-right group known as Patrioterne Gar Live burnt a copy of the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Copenhagen.

"These measures only pave the way for hate-mongering and extremism and foment violence, which poses a risk to peace, peaceful coexistence among humans, and global security," Iran’s foreign ministry said at the time, warning about a surge in the number of insults against holy Muslim sanctities.

In Norway, an anti-Islam movement, Stop Islamisation of Norway group, has been repeatedly accused of desecrating the Holy Quran in their rallies or ripping apart and disrespecting the holy book.

Freedom of expression

Sweden and other European countries, where the holy Islamic book has been frequently desecrated in recent years, have defended the act in different ways, equating it with freedom of expression.

Despite intense condemnation from different countries for the heinous act, some countries including the US defended the act as “freedom of expression”.

In a speech on Thursday, NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg defended the blasphemy in Sweden and said the burning of the Quran was not illegal, urging compromise over Sweden's accession to NATO.

“I understand the emotion and the depth of feeling,” Stoltenberg said, defending the Quran desecration. “These causes and actions taken that are offensive and objectionable are not necessarily illegal in a sovereign legal system.”

“This is part of freedom of expression,” Stoltenberg hastened to add. “I do not like them, but I defend the right to disagree.”

Erdogan had earlier this year said that if Sweden did not show respect to Muslims and their holy sanctities, he would not support the country’s NATO bid.

The government in Stockholm defended the act, with a Swedish court ruling that banning the demonstration would impinge on the right to freedom of speech.

In April, a Swedish court overturned a police move to ban two Quran-burning protests, saying security risk concerns were not enough to limit the right to demonstrate.

Following the latest incident in Sweden, Iraq’s top religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, in a letter to UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed strong protest over the desecration of the Holy Quran.

Ayatollah Sistani stressed that freedom of expression cannot justify such shameful acts that show disrespect for the Islamic sanctities of more than two billion Muslims worldwide.

On Monday, Pope Francis also denounced the act and said it has made him angry and disgusted.

“Any book considered holy should be respected to respect those who believe in it,” he said in an interview with the UAE newspaper Al Ittihad. “I feel angry and disgusted at these actions."

Iran terms it an ‘Ill-considered act’

Iran was among the first countries to condemn the act, with the foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kana’ani terming the desecration of the holy book “provocative, ill-considered and unacceptable”.

“The government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran … do not tolerate such an insult and strongly condemn it,” said Kana’ani, urging the Swedish government to accept responsibility and accountability for the incident and “prevent the repetition of insulting the holy sanctities.”

The foreign ministry also summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires on Thursday, condemning the Swedish “insult” to the most sacred Islamic sanctities.

“While Muslims are performing the Haj … insulting their sanctities merely serves the path of spreading hatred and violence, exploiting the principle of freedom of expression,” he was told.

In a Twitter post, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the entire Islamic world “strongly condemns the insult to the holy books and the Holy Quran” and noted that authorizing the desecration of holy sanctities without any justification “is not acceptable.”

“Its smoke, before moving in other directions, will hit the eyes of the West,” he warned.

On Sunday, the top Iranian diplomat said the country will not be sending its new ambassador to Sweden as a mark of protest against the Scandinavian country for allowing disrespect to Islamic sanctities.

Earlier, thousands of people rallied in the capital Tehran in front of the Swedish embassy to protest against the move, chanting slogans against the Swedish government.

 Condemnations from Muslim nations

Other Muslim countries also denounced the act and warned against testing the patience of Muslims.

Turkey slammed the move as “atrocious” and “despicable”, with President Tayyip Erdogan saying that Muslims will “teach the arrogant Western people that it is not freedom of expression to insult the sacred values of Muslims.”

“It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic actions under the pretext of freedom of expression,” Turkish Foreign Minister HakanFidan wrote on Twitter adding that “turning a blind eye to such atrocious acts is to be complicit.”

Morocco recalled its ambassador to Sweden for an indefinite period and summoned Sweden’s chargé d’affaires in Rabat to express “strong condemnation of this attack and its rejection of this unacceptable act”, according to the Moroccan state media.

Egypt described the move by Momika of allowing the desecration of the Holy Quran as “shameful”.

“Egypt expresses its deep concern about the repeated incidents of burning the Holy Qur’an and the recent escalation of Islamophobia and crimes of blasphemy of religions in some European countries, affirming its total rejection of all reprehensible practices that affect the constants and religious beliefs of Muslims,” Egypt foreign ministry said in a statement, as cited by the Egyptian media.

Iraqi government called the act “racist” and “irresponsible” with Iraqi people pouring into the streets to protest against it.

“They are not only racist but also promote violence and hatred,” the Iraqi government said in a statement, referring to those who have “repeatedly” insulted the sanctities of Muslims across Europe.

Several hundred people protested outside the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad on the call of Muqtada al-Sadr, who called on the Iraqi government to sever diplomatic relations with Sweden.

Other countries such as Jordan, Kuwait, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, UAE, and Qatar, also condemned the heinous act in Sweden, with some of them summoning the respective Swedish envoys.

The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) Miguel Moratinos expressed “unequivocal condemnation” of the desecration of the Holy Quran, terming it “vile”.

“Such a vile act is disrespectful to Muslims who are celebrating the holy occasion of Eid Al-Adha,” Moratinos said in a statement.

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