ماذا بعد حرق القرآن في السويد... وما هو الحلّ؟
Sweden has witnessed several days of unrest, after demonstrations turned into riots and torching cars, resulting in dozens of injuries. The unrest came in response to the burning of the Quran by the far-right leader Rasmus Paludan. Paludan, a Danish-Swedish lawyer and politician, is the founder of the Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”) political party that he founded in 2017 and is against immigration and Islam as a whole in Denmark.
Paludan tacitly wants to prove that uncontrolled immigration and embracing Muslim communities is wrong, because — according to him — they are criminals and do not believe in freedom of expression. However, his official statements when he burned the Quran suggest that he “wishes to create conflict,” and now he has gotten what he wanted.
Paludan wants to prove that uncontrolled immigration and embracing Muslim communities is wrong, because — according to him — they are criminals and don’t believe in freedoms.
In just a matter of a few days, neo-Nazi Paludan, in his own populist and engaging way, was able to prove his point of view to millions in Sweden and abroad, by inciting Muslims and some criminal groups in parallel societies to torch police cars and even civilian cars, injuring dozens on both sides and causing Sweden losses estimated in the millions. With the voting for the 2022 elections approaching fast, if Swedes do not vote for Paludan’s Danish party — or any other extremist right-wing party in Sweden — it is certain that, when the time comes, they will think twice before voting for a party from the left, due to the fierce reactions brought on by Paludan burning the Quran.
Swedish and European law, in line with Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights, guarantee freedom of expression regardless of its content, and regardless of whether the one expressing their opinion is an individual, a group, or type of media. The only limitation on the freedom to disseminate ideas is when the party in question promotes Nazi ideology, Holocaust denial, and incitement to hatred and racial discrimination. According to Article 17 of the Convention, freedom of expression may not be used in a manner that leads to “the destruction of the rights and freedoms granted by the Convention”.
Someone might say that Paludan promotes Nazism, or that Paludan is offending Muslims, which leads to the destruction of rights and freedoms. While another might say; and what about freedom of belief and the free practice of religion?
But Paludan, at the core of his activities, doesn’t do anything that violates the foregoing restrictions in the eyes of the law. While there is no moral justification for the foul Nazi behavior of Paludan, under the law, the burning of the Quran is quite different from inciting an act of hatred against an ethnic group and defaming said group, or calling for violence against a religious group. Thus, it does not disturb the peace and disrupt public security. In other words, Paludan does not carry a microphone and does not call for attacking Muslims in their homes, and does not prevent anyone from going to the mosque to practice their religion. In the eyes of the law, Paludan is burning his “own book”, as he put it on his personal Instagram page. The Quran is just a book that has no legal standing or status whatsoever in the eyes of Swedish law. Law and legislation are not derived from it, like they usually are in our (Arab) countries. Therefore, Swedish law guarantees freedom of expression of this kind, because the range of freedoms is very broad except in very special cases, such as the promoting of Nazism, for instance. And that’s because the wide range of freedoms in Sweden and other European countries is based on the “Paradox of Tolerance” that the Austrian-English philosopher Karl Popper put forward in his book “The Open Society and Its Enemies” in 1945.
The Paradox of Tolerance is based on the idea that absolute tolerance of all kinds of thought may lead to the creation of a fertile environment for intolerant thought, and consequently the complete destruction of a society’s ability to be tolerant.
So, hate speech is not protected by Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights — the law on freedom of expression.
There are many examples of people with different visions and topics violating Article 10 of the Freedom of Expression Act both inside and outside Sweden, and here, we will mention some examples to compare them with the case of Paludan burning the Quran.
While there’s no moral justification for the behavior of Paludan, under the law, burning the Quran differs from defaming a religious or ethnic group, inciting an act of hatred, or calling for violence, and thus doesn’t disrupt public security
The case of Vejdeland v. Sweden
Four Swedish citizens belonging to an organization called National Youth distributed more than one hundred leaflets to schools, leaving them on student lockers. In the leaflets, they claimed that homosexuality is a “deviant sexual proclivity”, “has a morally destructive effect on the very essence of society”, and that it is responsible for the spread of the “modern-day plague” of HIV and AIDS.
The defendants claimed that they had not intended to express contempt for homosexuals as a group, and stated that the purpose of their act was to “start a debate” about the lack of objectivity in education within Swedish schools. The court found that these posts constituted serious and harmful allegations, even if they were not direct incitement to acts of hate. The court emphasized that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is no less serious than discrimination based on race, origin, or colour. It concluded that there had been no violation of Article 10 of the Convention, since the Swedish authorities regarded that interference with the adolescents’ exercise of their right to freedom of expression was necessary in any democratic society, in order to protect the reputation and rights of others.
Initially, the four Swedish citizens were tried for incitement or “agitation against a national or ethnic group”, and the Court sentenced the four citizens to a fine and imprisonment. The defendants then appealed this decision to the Swedish Court of Appeal, and the court changed the penalty to only fines and suspended sentences, without any imprisonment.
The case of Perinçek v. Switzerland
Perinçek is a Turkish politician who publicly expressed his views in Switzerland that the mass deportations, killings, and massacres that Armenians were subjected to in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and the years after, did not amount to genocide, describing the genocide as “an international lie”. The Swiss courts saw that his motives appeared to be of racist and nationalist tendencies, and that his statements “did not contribute to the historical debate”. Defendant Perinçek lodged an appeal, complaining that his criminal conviction and sentence violated his right to freedom of expression, but in its final decision, the court held that Perinçek himself had violated Article 10 of the Convention on Human Rights on Freedom of Expression.
The question now is: If Paludan’s burning of the Quran was an expression of opinion, but at the same time embraced intolerant thought (Nazi ideology), as expressed by Karl Popper, why is it allowed in the first place?
The case of Norwood v. United Kingdom
In the Norwood case, the defendant displayed a poster in his window representing the ideas of the extreme right-wing British National Party (BNP) that he was a member of.
The poster in question contained a photo of the Twin Towers aflame, accompanied by the phrase “Islam out of Britain… Protect the British people”. As a direct result, the applicant was convicted of “aggravated hostility towards a religious group”.
The court also declared the defendant’s complaint inadmissible, referring to Article 17 of the Convention, which prohibits any activity “aimed at destroying any of the rights and freedoms stipulated therein”. The Court noted that freedom of expression may be used to destroy the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Convention, and found that such a broad and aggravated attack on all Muslims, as well as associating a religious group as a whole with a serious act of terrorism, contravenes the values proclaimed and guaranteed by the Convention, particularly tolerance, social peace, and non-discrimination, Therefore, any expression that contains elements of racial and religious discrimination fall outside the scope of Article 10.
Islam is in dire need of reform to transform it from a political prescription for managing a country to a religion of peace, as it is supposed to be. As long as some insist on dealing with this religion as a social and political system, this war will continue
The list goes on, but the question that arises here is: If Paludan’s burning of the Quran was an expression of opinion, but at the same time embraced intolerant thought (Nazi ideology), as expressed by Karl Popper, so why is it allowed in the first place? The reason, in my opinion, is not just that Swedish law guarantees a broad range of freedoms. The reason is that the ones in charge see a much greater symbol of intolerant thought in fanatical groups and their behavior; it is violent, intolerant thought and behavior that is even more fanatical compared to the acts of Paludan. It is quite unbelievable, but it is the truth. The proof can be found in the statements of the police officers who declared that the violence is unjustified, saying it will not be tolerated and will be repaid in kind, in addition to the demands calling for the resignation of the Minister of Justice, Morgan Johansson, for failing to manage the crisis, in parallel with all this provocation happening against the sentiments of Muslims.
So what is the solution? The solution is for the fanatic to abandon his fanaticism, and for the fanatic youth to be educated by religious institutions, sheikhs on podiums, and influencers within Muslim circles, and for the demonstrators to welcome Paludan with flowers, as Khaled Muhammad, president of the “For the People” charity, said, until such thinking vanishes from history, and so that Muslims prove that they believe in democracy. Islam is in dire need of reform so that it can transform from a political prescription for managing a country to a religion of peace and love exclusively, just like it is supposed to be, since it is supposed to be a religion and not a political system. And as long as there is an insistence on dealing with this religion as a social and political methodology, this war will continue to wage. The coming days are much more difficult, and if political Islam is not neutralized today and now, peaceful Muslims will lose a lot, and all the immigrant groups will lose a lot. The change begins with the implementation of what the UAE ambassador to America, Yousef Al Otaiba, said, “the path to the future includes separating religion from the state, and this is what we do in the UAE, and what we believe in.”