Sweden, Turkey and UAE condemn Islamophobia after extremist burns Quran

Protests staged in Stockholm over Sweden's application to join Nato

Protests took place in Sweden against its application to join Nato. EPA
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Sweden condemned Islamophobic violence on Saturday after a far-right campaigner burnt a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Turkey cancelled an arranged visit by the Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson and the UAE led international condemnation of the stunt carried out by the "extremist".

The burning coincided with protests in Stockholm against Sweden's application to join Nato, to which Turkey objects over worries about Sweden's response to Kurdish militants.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said the book-burning was appalling.

“Sweden has a far-reaching freedom of expression but it does not imply that the Swedish government, or myself, support the opinions expressed,” Mr Billstrom said on Twitter.

The cancelled trip was the latest backlash from Turkey, a Nato member, which has been withholding its approval of Sweden’s application to join the military alliance.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the vile attack on our holy book,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. "Permitting this anti-Islam act, which targets Muslims and insults our sacred values, under the guise of freedom of expression is completely unacceptable."

The statement was issued after anti-immigration politician Rasmus Paludan, leader of Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burnt the Quran following a speech of almost an hour denouncing Islam.

Police based their decision to authorise the protest on the basis of Sweden's liberal constitution, which protects the right to demonstrate.

Footage from the scene showed Mr Paludan standing behind a barrier with several police officers nearby. He held up a book which he set on fire and began to speak to onlookers as smoke rose into the air.

Mr Paludan provoked rioting in Sweden last year when he went on a tour of the country and publicly burnt copies of the Quran.

The UAE condemned the burning by a man it described as an extremist.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation affirmed the UAE's rejection of all practices aimed at destabilising security and stability in contravention of human and moral values and principles.

The ministry renewed its enduring call to renounce hate speech and violence and underscored the need to respect religious symbols and avoid inciting hatred by insulting religions.

It also emphasised the need to spread the values of tolerance and coexistence.

In response to the burning, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry said the nation "calls for spreading the values of dialogue, tolerance, and coexistence, and rejects hatred and extremism".

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that the burning was a “disgraceful act that provokes the feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world”.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the "senseless and provocative Islamophobic act" which it said "hurts the religious sensitivities of over 1.5 billion Muslims around the world".

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah made his disapproval known in a statement carried by state news agency Kuna. He urged the international community "to shoulder responsibility by stopping such unacceptable acts and denouncing all forms of hatred and extremism and brining the perpetrators to accountability".

Jordan warned the stunt carried out by Mr Paludan "fuels hatred" and said the condemnation of extremism was "a collective responsibility".

The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation issued a statement condemning the “provocation action” and urged Sweden to punish those behind the “hate crime” which it said had targeted Muslims. It said such an act “insults their sacred values, and serves as further example of the alarming level reached by Islamophobia".

Previous protests

Mr Paludan, who also has Swedish citizenship, has held a number of demonstrations during which he has burnt the Quran.

The Turkish ministry urged Sweden to take action against the perpetrator and invited all countries to respond to the Islamophobic act.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join Nato following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. All 30 member states must approve their bids.

Turkey has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry had summoned Sweden's ambassador on Friday over the planned protests.

Finland and Sweden signed a three-way agreement with Turkey last year aimed at overcoming Ankara's objections to their membership of Nato.

Sweden said it had fulfilled its part of the deal but Turkey is demanding more, including the extradition of 130 people it deems to be terrorists.

Updated: January 22, 2023, 12:13 PM