Sweden is once again caught in the political crosshairs over its decision to greenlight burnings of the Quran and Torah in Stockholm. Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said this week that far-right figures have filed more requests for Quran-burning protests with the police, and he is “extremely worried” about what could happen as a result.
Sweden, as well as neighboring Denmark, have allowed the protests to take place in recent months, sparking criticism, counterprotests, and diplomatic blowback from several majority-Muslim nations. We’ve curated reporting and insights about the latest developments.
- The reason the protests have been allowed to proceed: Sweden “has one of the world’s strongest legal protections for freedom of expression” and cannot ban protests unless they are a threat to public safety, Marten Schultz, law professor at Stockholm University, told the BBC. Experts determined that the burnings targeted a text instead of individuals. The freedom of speech right dates back to 1766 and is seen as a “fundamental value” in Swedish culture, Schultz said.
- Swedish officials have condemned the Quran burnings, and said this week that the country is the target of a disinformation campaign led by “Russia-backed actors” trying to imply that Sweden is behind the protests. Sweden’s national security service said the incidents have changed the world’s view of Sweden, “from a tolerant country to a country hostile to Islam and Muslims.” — The Guardian
- Sweden also recently approved a request for a 50-year-old woman to burn a copy of the Torah, the sacred Jewish text, outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he warned his Swedish counterpart that the demonstration could worsen the two countries’ relationship. Jewish community leaders in Israel said the burning shouldn’t qualify for freedom of expression protections. — The Times of Israel
- Free-speech hardliners, though, argue that however tempting it may be, criminalizing the burning of holy books isn’t the right solution. “Free speech and religious tolerance are two sides of the same coin,” Jacob Mchangama, CEO of the Future of Free Speech Project, writes in the Persuasion newsletter. “The same right that allows extremists ... to burn the Quran protects Muslims from political demands that the Quran be banned.”