Now and then, the European governments and collegiate bodies issue statements criticizing Middle East countries for their frail performance on human rights. My home country, Egypt, is probably the country that receives the most criticism. But, when it comes to the systematic acts of racism against Muslim minorities in Europe, most European politicians turn their heads away and decline to intervene to stop such a gross violation of Muslims’ basic human right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
For more than a decade, Rasmus Paludan, a Danish-Swedish lawyer has been repetitively insulting and burning the Muslim holy book – the Quran – in daylight and under the protection of Swedish policemen. While he is doing it to gain political influence, the Swedish government is tolerating his racism under the flag of freedom.
I do not remember reading in any international instrument that people are free to practice racism and discrimination against an entire religion or ethnicity. Paulden’s practice of hate against more than one billion Muslims worldwide is a severe violation that needs to be punished, instead of being protected, by the Swedish government.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Paludan’s entire political career and fame are shamefully based on hating Muslims. Paludan is a far right-politician, who leads a party called “Stram Kurs” or Hard Line. Since 2010, he has been devoting acts of hate against the Muslim minority in Sweden to attract voters to his party. Unfortunately, his malicious tactics worked every time as there is, apparently, a large number of people who support his extremist stand against Muslims.
Last year, Paludan led a domestic tour in Sweden to collect voter signatures prerequisite to securing candidature in the general elections that took place in September. Paludan’s campaign was simply about burning Quran in public during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He did not talk to the targeted voters about what he can do in politics or the economy. Instead, he only showed how much he hates Muslims to get their support. Sadly, his tour inspired far-right extremists in neighboring Norway to do similar racist rallies, wherein they tore pages of the Quran and spit on the holy book.
This week, Paludan decided to level up his racist/political game to spark a cross-border crisis. He took his rally to the capital city of Stockholm to burn Quran outside the walls of the Turkish embassy. Paludan’s action targeted Turkey as a state and the Turkish leadership that represents itself as a political representative of Muslims worldwide. During his rally, members of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) gathered to shout against the Turkish state for asking Sweden to stop protecting them.
Sweden, alongside Finland, has been begging Turkey for months to approve their admission to NATO. They fear Russian aggression similar to what happened in Ukraine in February. Turkey has been vetoing the NATO decision to annex Sweden and Finland unless they stop supporting and protecting members of the terrorist organizations that threaten Turkey’s national security (e.g., PKK, YPG, and FETO). Meetings between Turkish and Swedish officials have been held, over the past months, to discuss the issue. However, no tangible progress has been achieved.
In response to Paludan’s hateful rally, Turkey’s Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, canceled a meeting with his Swedish counterpart who was supposed to visit Ankara, next week, to discuss his country’s admission to NATO. This is the first time the Swedish state receives an official retaliation for allowing racists to burn the Muslim holy book. Over the years, Middle East politicians only voiced routine condemnations of the acts of the anti-Muslim racist groups in Sweden, mainly to calm down the Muslim public in the countries that they lead. Sadly, this never prompted Sweden to take decisive action against the anti-Muslim racists.
Worried about the Turkish reaction, the Swedish Prime Minister wrote a mild tweet expressing his sympathy with the affected Muslims and describing Paludan’s misconduct as a form of free expression. Kristersson’s statement is very reminiscent of the comment of French President Macron on the insult of the Muslim Prophet in the local press.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy. But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act. I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today.” Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, wrote in a tweet.
European politicians' use of the terminology of freedom and democracy to justify discrimination against Muslim minorities in their countries is a disgrace. By tolerating discrimination against minorities, they are hurting democracy. Targeting hate at Muslims, repetitively, is not only inappropriate or disrespectful. It is racism. Racism is not free expression. It is a crime that political leaders need to punish and block, especially to protect the diversity in society, which is the core of democracy.
The European far-right extremists, like Paludan and his supporters, are no less dangerous than the Islamist terrorists from Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda. In fact, they are constantly fueling the terrorist groups with the “state of victimhood” they need to recruit followers and justify their terrorist operations, especially against non-Muslims. The most heartbreaking fact in all this dark scene of hate and discrimination is that neither the politicians nor the extremists pay the price of religion-based hate. Only innocent civilians do.
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