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EDITORIAL | Quran Burnings a Russian Ploy to Derail Sweden’s NATO Bid?

The Quran burnings in Sweden have angered Islamic countries. If left unchecked, these could have serious consequences for European security.



Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stand in front of a burning banner with the LGBT flag during a protest against a man who tore up and burned a copy of the Koran outside a mosque in the Swedish capital Stockholm, near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 30, 2023. (©REUTERS/Saba Kareem)

Nordic countries Sweden and Denmark are witnessing a spike in anti-Islam protests. These have involved the burning and desecration of the Quran, the holy scripture of Islam. The protests have been strongly condemned by Muslim-majority countries. 

Behind these incidents is the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment. This has been fueled by an increase in immigrants and refugees from the Middle East. Notably, a non-Muslim refugee from Iraq took part in an instance of Quran burning. 

A woman holds a copy of the Koran. The scene is during a protest against a man who tore up and burned a copy of the Koran outside a mosque in the Swedish capital Stockholm. This image is from near the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, June 30, 2023. (©REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani)

The Quran holds deep significance for Muslims. While the protestors' freedom to express their viewpoints should be protected, disrespectful acts, such as burning or desecrating the Quran, are highly undesirable. To alleviate the concerns of Islamic nations, the authorities in Sweden and Denmark should focus on preventing the recurrence of such incidents.

If left unchecked, these protests could incite terrorist attacks or provoke violent responses. Additionally, they could negatively impact Sweden's NATO membership bid.

Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr burn flags. They are taking part in a protest in Baghdad, Iraq. The Swedish embassy was stormed and set on fire ahead of an expected Koran burning in Stockholm. On July 21, 2023. (©REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani)

Freedom of Expression

In Iraq, counter-protestors set fire to the Swedish embassy in response to the Quran burnings. The Iraqi government expelled the Swedish ambassador and warned that the country would sever diplomatic ties if a Quran is burned again. The Turkish government also condemned the "vile attack" against the Muslim holy book.

Turkey had initially refused to accept Sweden's NATO membership bid, but this changed in July. However, if such incidents persist, Turkey could harden its stance again. 

These developments could have wider implications, especially considering the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which might potentially destabilize security in Europe.

Protestor Salwan Momika is outside the Iraqi embassy, in Stockholm, Sweden on July 20, 2023. He was planning to burn a copy of Koran and the Iraqi flag. (©TT News Agency/Caisa Rasmussen via REUTERS)

In Sweden and Denmark, some have argued for caution when considering restrictions on Quran burning, citing the need to protect freedom of expression. 

However, many countries uphold freedom of expression and still enforce laws against the desecration of the national flag. For Muslims, the Quran holds even greater sanctity than a flag. Therefore, extreme actions that seek to damage the Quran should be subject to legal measures.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with head of Rostelecom company Mikhail Oseyevsky at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 7, 2023. (© Sputnik/Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via REUTERS)

A Russian Ploy?

Some have suggested that the Quran burnings are being provoked by Russia. Carl-Oskar Bohlin, the Minister for Civil Defense in Sweden, stated, "Russia-backed actors are amplifying incorrect statements, such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures."

According to a report by The Guardian in January 2023, the demonstration permit used for a Quran-burning incident was funded by a former journalist from the Kremlin-owned media RT.

If these incidents are indeed part of an outrageous ploy by Russia to obstruct Sweden's NATO membership, that provides further reason to put an end to them. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun


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