Qur’an burning in
Sweden an incitement of hate


By Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri

Hate speech covers many forms of expression that incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons.

In Sweden, hate speech poses a grave danger to the cohesion of democratic society, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law.

Plans by Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam group Stram Kurs, led by Rasmus Paludan, to burn the Qu’ran in the month of Ramadan, go against the sovereign nation’s civil laws and its values.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its condemnation and denunciation of the far-right group’s actions in deliberately provoking and inciting hate against Muslims.

The Kingdom stressed the importance of concerted efforts to spread the values of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence, rejecting hatred, extremism and exclusion, and preventing abuse of all religions and sanctities.

Saudi Arabia has always been keen to respect cultures and religions and jointly established an international organization under the Center for Interfaith Dialogue.

The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue was founded in 2012 by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain, with the Vatican as an observing founding member.

The center is located in Vienna and seeks to advance the process of dialogue and understanding among followers of multiple religions and cultures. It also promotes a culture of respect for diversity and establishes the rules of justice and peace among nations and peoples. Its board of directors comprises religious leaders, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus.

Rasmus Paludan burning the Holy Qura’n

In the past, we have seen a fierce campaign, whether through traditional or new media, to undermine Muslims; a problematic notion since Muslims represent more than 1.5 billion of the world’s population. These campaigns are carried out in an openly hostile manner and, in many cases, under what is called democracy or freedom of expression.

The strange thing is that freedom of speech is supposed to be in the interest of humanity and is based on civilized values that respect others and their religion, coexisting with no differentiation or prejudice against race, or undermining religious symbols or subjecting them to ridicule.

In the past, this interpretation of free expression was expressed through 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Sept. 30, 2005.

On Jan. 10, 2006, the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet, German newspaper Die Welt, French newspaper France Soir and other newspapers in Europe republished the images. Their publication hurt the feelings of the vast majority of Muslims and was met with a great wave of condemnation at different political levels of the Muslim world.

Police officers patrol during a protest ahead of a demonstration planned by Danish anti-Muslim politician Rasmus Paludan and his Stram Kurs party, which was to include a burning of the Qur’an in Orebro, Sweden.

Another form of inciting hate toward Muslims was through attacks on places of worship, such as the Christchurch Mosque terror attacks in New Zealand in 2019 by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, an Australian terrorist. He killed more than 51 Muslims at two mosques.

Such demagogic actions do not serve the values of peace, coexistence and the civilized world. Instead, they will take us back to the dark ages under the pretext of freedom of expression.

Such atrocities would not be carried out if there were regulations and laws criminalizing such heinous acts, which would lead to more reactions and riots, or even worse, such as was case with the storming of the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015.

But we must not lose sight of newspapers’ responsibilities when they published cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, Saudi Arabia condemned both parties, holding accountable both the magazine and the attackers, who caused the death of 12 people and the injury of 11 others.

Let us not forget that these drawings were an act of terrorism against more than 1.5 billion Muslims.

Humanity is reeling from a pandemic. Though the world is still struggling to overcome it, the upside was that it allowed people to forget their differences in religion, language and race, and join forces to confront the threat of COVID-19. This effort should be directed toward fighting bigotry and Islamophobic rhetoric and actions.

The world might soon face food shortages due to the Russia-Ukraine war, which calls for a concerted effort to resolve the conflict peacefully. With its different cultures, races and religions, the world must think about the future of its children and avoid further conflicts that divide efforts and create disasters.

Terrorists and criminals who do not respect other religions and cultures, and who seek to inflame differences and drag the world into religious wars, must not be given the space to freely express their briefs with little or no regard for the consequences of their actions.

(Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri Is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @DrHamsheri.)