Shock on streets of Stockholm over Quran burning

Locals fear Sweden's bid to join Nato will be hampered by man's desecration of Muslim holy book

People in Sweden speak out after Quran burning rocks the country

People in Sweden speak out after Quran burning rocks the country
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Shock, anger and fear of repercussions reverberated through the streets of a Stockholm neighbourhood on Friday following a protester’s burning of a Quran outside a mosque.

Parents, business owners and immigrants told The National that the demonstration left them feeling upset, disgusted and even considering leaving Sweden.

Many said they were surprised that Swedish police had granted a permit for the protest, particularly due to the timing and location.

The burning took place on Wednesday during Eid Al Adha – one of the most important festivals in the Muslim calendar – close Stockholm’s largest mosque.

Salwan Momika, who is originally from Iraq, stomped on the Quran and set several pages alight, prompting a wave of condemnation from leaders around the globe.

Police had given the 37-year-old a permit for the protest in accordance with free speech laws, but later said the incident was being investigated for incitement of hatred.

While the dust has settled in the community following the protest, the fears of consequences further down the line linger.

“I am shocked,” said Chokri, who runs a flower stall near the mosque. “It’s not OK for anyone to do that.

“I think people who burn the Quran are the same as ISIS.”

The salesman is originally from Tripoli in Libya and has called Sweden home for the past seven years.

But Swedish authorities’ decision to allow the burning of the holy book has caused him to rethink his position in the country.

“I am a Muslim and if this continues to happen, I will have to flee to another land,” he said. “I will maybe go to Germany or France.”

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday called for calm and reflection amid international uproar.

In Iraq, protesters on Thursday briefly breached the Swedish embassy in Baghdad.

“It is difficult to say what the consequences will be. I think there are many people who have reason to reflect,” Mr Kristersson told a press conference.

“It is of course completely unacceptable to have people who unlawfully break into Swedish embassies in other countries.”

The head of government added there was also no reason “to insult other people”, referring to Mr Momika's actions.

“I think that just because some things are legal they are not necessarily appropriate,” Mr Kristersson said.

The granting of a permit by police came two weeks after a Swedish appeals court rejected officers’ decision to deny permits for two demonstrations in Stockholm which were to include Quran burnings.

Police cited security concerns at the time, following a burning of the Muslim holy book outside Turkey's embassy in January that led to weeks of protests.

The incidents also prompted calls for a boycott of Swedish goods and further stalled Stockholm's Nato membership bid – which is being blocked by Turkey.

But amid widespread condemnation, Mr Kristersson said his country's Nato ambitions remain at the top of the agenda.

“I think we should focus on the right things now, it's important that Sweden becomes a member of Nato. We have important and large issues to deal with,” he said.

As worshippers headed to the mosque for Friday prayers, cafes were packed with people sipping coffees under umbrellas.

They overlooked a green area where children played in the sun.

Annica, who is running a week-long summer camp for children, said Wednesday’s protest forced her to relocate activities elsewhere.

“A parent contacted me to say she was worried about the situation,” she told The National. “They are young children and they should not be in an area where there could be accidents.

“It does not matter what you thought about the demonstration. The main thing is that it should not have happened in this area. Children are on their school holidays. There was a concert for young families across the road going on when it happened.”

She expressed surprise that the protest was allowed to go ahead and said it was inappropriate for a political demonstration to take place near where children are.

“Freedom of speech is so important and it’s something that we should stand up for. But you can do it in other ways,” she said.

Outside the mosque, the atmosphere was jubilant as young and old mingled following prayers.

“Of course we’re happy, it’s a Muslim holiday,” one worshipper said.

Nazia Qaiser was joined by her husband and young son for the occasion.

Having recently immigrated from India, she was disappointed to learn of the Quran burning in a nation known for tolerance of different faiths.

“We should respect sacred things from all religions,” she said. “I am from India and I have friends who are Hindu and Christian. We should respect all religions.

“When my husband told me about the protest, I was a bit sceptical to come to pray here today. But my son is six and we all came here today because we feel that it’s important.”

Ziad stood outside the mosque collecting donations for Palestine.

He said the Quran burning is “very difficult to accept” and blamed the Swedish government.

“My freedom is not freedom when it stops another person being free,” he said. “I think what happened was wrong.

“The problem is not the Swedish police, it is the government.”

After the January burning, Turkey temporarily broke off Nato talks with Sweden, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also slammed the latest burning.

The question of Nato membership was bearing heavily on the minds of Tomas and his wife Ewa as they lounged in the sun near Stockholm central mosque on Friday.

Ewa, originally from the island of Gotland, fears for her family and friends in her hometown amid a heightened security situation since Russia invaded Ukraine. She believes Nato membership is the way forward to make Swedes feel safer.

“I was very, very sad to hear about the Quran being burnt,” she said. “I think Sweden should join Nato and it could have negative consequences now.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in Russia, and with the Wagner Group.”

Her husband said while the incident outside the mosque will no doubt make the Nato accession path more difficult, all is not lost.

“There’s still hope,” he said. “There’s so much pressure from the other [Nato] states for Sweden to join.”

He branded the protester’s stunt a “stupid” act which risks damaging Sweden’s chances of joining the transatlantic alliance.

Cafe owner Viktor called the burning a “childish” action, but on the question of Nato, he said Sweden may be better off out of the club.

“We should not join Nato,” he said matter-of-factly.

“When you are blocked from something, sometimes you lose yourself in order to be accepted.

“We don’t need to be in Nato in order to be safe. We can get by on our own. We can co-operate with Nato without being in Nato. There is no rush.”

Updated: June 30, 2023, 7:29 PM