Should the public burning of the Qur’an be allowed? Should the public burning of the holy scriptures of any religious tradition be allowed? Swedish authorities have recently come up with a novel answer to these questions, an answer that is certain to cause them more problems than it will solve.
Book burning is generally associated with a brutish war against human knowledge and enlightenment and conjures up images of sweaty, fiendishly grinning National Socialists standing before bonfires of books that challenged their evil ideology. The Danish activist Rasmus Paludan and others in Europe, however, have begun burning the Qur’an in various places as a demonstration of their opposition to jihad violence and Sharia oppression of women, and in order to take a stand against those who are demanding that the West curtail the freedom of expression in order to conform to Sharia blasphemy laws.
The Qur’an-burning protesters are out of business for the time being in Sweden, however, as the Swedish police, which quite recently allowed the burnings on the grounds of free expression, have just banned public burnings of the Islamic holy book. Sweden is under heavy pressure from the government of Turkey, which is opposing its membership in NATO unless it abandons the freedom of speech. So goodbye, freedom of speech. The retreat is not total, however: burning the scriptures of other religions, however, is still perfectly legal. In making this distinction, Swedish authorities have embarked upon an extremely dangerous path.
The Swedish-language news outlet SVT reported Thursday that in the last few days, “two applications for Qur’an burnings have been denied.” Police spokesperson Ola Österling was unequivocal: “As a rule in Stockholm, we will not allow burning the Qur’an during public gatherings.” Some say that the police ban on Qur’an burnings violates the protection of the freedom of expression in the Swedish constitution, and Österling says that the police welcome this challenge: “We want to have it tested that our reasoning is legal. We are aware that it is a restriction on freedom of expression. And in order to be able to make decisions about restrictions on freedom of expression, which is a constitutionally protected freedom and right, it is required that it is stated in law.” So the police rule could be struck down, but in light of Sweden’s desire to enter NATO, this is unlikely.
The denials came because, according to Österling, the burnings “could evoke, partly on site but also in a Swedish context, a threat to Swedish interests and to Swedish society.” What kind of threat? Would the Qur’an burners, having disposed of the book, turn their torches to public buildings? No, the “threat to Swedish interests” consists of Turkey’s threats to block Sweden’s entry into NATO if the Qur’an burnings continue, plus the threat of jihad violence within the country as revenge for the burnings. This makes it undeniable that the Swedish ban on burning the Qur’an is wholly and solely a capitulation to the threats of Islamic jihadis, both the kind that wear suits in Ankara and the kind that are ready to do violence on the streets of Stockholm. This capitulation will only encourage more such threats, as now the jihadis see that they work.
Even worse, the Swedish-language Expressen reported Monday that the ban on burning holy books applies only to the Qur’an, and not to the sacred writings of other religions. The legal department of the Swedish police “drew up an internal document which stated that Qur’an burnings should not be allowed. In the document, it appears, according to the newspaper, that other holy books or flags are not covered by the ban.”
Why the double standard? The answer is as plain as the Swedish authorities’ capitulation to violent intimidation. If you burn a Bible, Christians won’t kill you, and the Leftist intelligentsia will applaud your courage and give you awards and grants. When it comes to the Qur’an, however, suddenly the most stalwart exponents of the freedom of expression start talking about how much we need to curtail that freedom in order to respect the rights of others. This is because if you burn a Qur’an, some Muslims will want very much to kill you. If you give in to them and curtail your activities accordingly, you’ll end up encouraging more such thuggery. Once the jihadis see that the West will give them what they want if they threaten violence, they’ll threaten ever more violence. That’s why the Swedish authorities are playing an extremely foolish and dangerous game.