Protester stops short of burning Torah in Sweden after act condemned as 'shameful'

Israel had condemned decision of Stockhom police to grant permit for protest

The man identified as Ahmad A, who was granted a permit to protest outside Israel's embassy, chose not to set fire to a Torah or Bible. EPA
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A campaigner who caused outrage by telling police he planned to burn a Torah and Bible in Sweden chose not to go ahead with his protest on Saturday.

The man, identified as Ahmad A, said the aim of his stunt was to criticise those who have recently set fire to the Quran in Sweden.

Watched by police and journalists in Stockholm, the activist produced a book from a drawstring bag but did not set it alight.

"This is a response to the people who burn the Quran. I want to show that freedom of expression has limits that must be taken into account", said the Swedish resident of Syrian origin, according to AFP.

"I want to show that we have to respect each other, we live in the same society. If I burn the Torah, another Bible, another Quran, there will be war here. What I wanted to show is that it's not right to do it."

Police had granted permission for a protest outside Israel's embassy in Stockholm, while saying they did not endorse the burning of religious texts.

Pakistan said on Saturday it condemned the permission being granted.

"As a religion of peace, Islam calls for respect for all religions, sacred personalities and holy scriptures," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said.

The man said in his permit request that he wanted to burn the Torah and Bible in response to two recent incidents in which the Quran was set on fire in Sweden.

The threat of the Torah being burned led to outrage from senior Israeli figures and Jewish groups.

Ziv Nevo Kulman, Israel's ambassador in Sweden, said he was relieved that a Torah had not been burnt.

But "the danger of desecrating holy books has not yet passed. I hope that there is a way that will be found to prevent such acts from happening," he said.

Mr Kulman had previously compared the desecration of the Torah to the burning of books by the 1930s Nazi regime, a prelude to the Holocaust.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called it a “shameful decision” to allow the protest. President Isaac Herzog said he was heart-broken that a Jewish holy book could be burned.

A Swedish police spokeswoman told The National that the permit was granted for the gathering and not the burning of holy texts.

“It’s very important to point out that the police do not give approval to such acts,” she said. “We give permission to have a meeting and that’s the difference.”

A Quran was burned outside Stockholm's main mosque last month. It was the second such case this year after a protest outside Turkey's embassy in Sweden in January.

Both incidents led to condemnation from the Muslim world and beyond. The UN's Human Rights Council this week passed a motion calling for such acts to be prosecuted.

Sweden has said it is considering whether to bring in stricter laws. The European Union's co-ordinator for combating anti-Muslim hatred told The National this week that the EU condemns Quran burning but said it was up to individual member states whether to ban it.

Rabbi Moshe David HaCohen, a Jewish leader in Malmo, said there were interfaith efforts in Sweden to stop the burning of sacred books.

He said Jewish people had expressed solidarity with Muslims after the burning of the Quran and now hoped to work together to prevent the desecration of the Torah.

Updated: July 15, 2023, 2:11 PM