December 3 2022 10:11 PM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Riots over Quran burning test Swedish tolerance

5. Sweden
An Iranian woman lifts a Quran as she takes part in a student rally in front of the embassy of Sweden in Tehran, on April 18, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
STOCKHOLM  — Riots across Sweden sparked by a notorious anti-immigrant provocateur threatening to tour the country burning the Quran has challenged the country’s limits to free speech.اضافة اعلان

Police clashed with groups of mostly masked young men in several towns and cities after the anti-Islam Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan announced his Quran burning “tour” for the Muslim holy month of Ramadam.

Swedish police insisted they had to grant permits for Paludan’s incendiary events because of the country’s liberal freedom of speech laws.

But several Muslim countries have reacted angrily, with Iraq’s foreign ministry warning the affair could have “serious repercussions” on “relations between Sweden and Muslims in general.”

Despite the outcry, justice minister Morgan Johansson stressed the importance of protecting the country’s freedoms.

“We are living in a democracy with far-reaching freedoms of speech and the press and we should be very proud of that,” he said.

But he admitted that those freedoms were being used by a “Danish extremist” to foster “hate, division, and violence,” which he deplored.

Segregation

At least 40 people were hurt — 26 of them police officers — and as many were arrested after days of rioting over the Easter weekend in Norrkoping, Linkoping, Landskrona, Orebro, Malmo, and the capital Stockholm.

A school was also set alight with 20 police vehicles either damaged or destroyed.

But with Paludan announcing more events, many local officials are having misgivings.

“Under these circumstances, the police should not grant permits for more public gatherings,” Anna Thorn, city manager of Norrkoping, told a press conference Tuesday.

Freedom of speech has historically enjoyed strong protection in Sweden.

While police can deny permits for gatherings that would constitute “incitement of against an ethnic group”, the bar is usually high.

Much of the rioters’ fury was directed at police, with national police chief Anders Thornberg even saying they “tried to kill police officers”.

The Quran burnings were planned for areas with large Muslim populations, which also happen to be neighborhoods that Swedish police designate “vulnerable areas”.

The term refers to areas with “high levels of poverty, high levels of people of a foreign background and by having criminal networks exerting pressure on those living in or visiting these neighborhoods,” Manne Gerell, an associate professor of Criminology at Malmo University, told AFP.


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