Heinous act

Amr Wagdy
Sunday 2 Jul 2023

The Swedish-Danish extremist, Rasmus Paludan, has burned the Holy Qur’an in the Swedish capital Stockholm after he demonstrated in front of the Turkish embassy ​​during the Muslims’ celebration of Eid al-Adha.

A heinous act by all standards that inflames the feelings of two billion Muslims worldwide, increases tension and strife and contradicts all human values and principles.

It is also an act that will have dire consequences.

This is not the first time the Holy Qur’an has been burned in Sweden. The same act has happened before. This time, however, those who burned the Qur’an before a mosque in Stockholm obtained a permit from the Swedish authorities.

This means that the Swedish government is a party to the matter; Unlike previous times, the extremist perpetrators did not act independently, which makes the Swedish government responsible for the burning, whose timing was deliberately chosen.   

Some Western officials believe that burning the Holy Qur’an is a legal act and comes within the framework of freedom of opinion and expression stipulated in international human rights conventions. This view of the act, however, contradicts practical reality.

Article (19) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Article (19) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates the following: 1- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3- The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph (2) of this article carries special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be as provided by law and are necessary. These restrictions include (a) Respect for the rights or reputations of others; (b) Protecting national security, public order, or public health or morals.

Even the European Convention on Human Rights, in article (10), states that the right to freedom of expression is subject to certain restrictions that are "in accordance with the law" and "necessary in a democratic society".

These restrictions include protecting the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety; preventing disorder or crime; safeguarding health or morals; protecting the reputation or the rights of others; preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence; and maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

The international human rights law also prohibits hate speech that includes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”

Speech directed against a particular sect is permissible under international human rights law as long as it does not include clear incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. However, the human rights law criminalizes any speech against a specific sect that exudes hatred, incitement to violence or discrimination, calling on states to take all necessary measures to prevent it.     

Thus, burning the Holy Qur’an is an act that includes incitement to discrimination, hostility, hatred, and, of course, violence. There is ample evidence that this act has often triggered acts of violence and created an environment hostile to Muslims in their collective capacity as Muslims. It also indicates blatant religious racism.

Therefore, it is an act that is prohibited by international law, and it cannot fall under the category of freedom of opinion and expression since it is a legal act.

Such extremist and irresponsible acts may open the door to chaos and instability, triggering retaliatory violence in many countries worldwide.

This we have previously seen on more than one occasion after right-wing extremists insulted religions and abused symbols and sanctities.

The crime of burning the Holy Qur’an is not the first and may not be the last, but it certainly clearly reflects an extremist racist ideology that has begun to invade many societies.

Traces of this ideology can be seen in the crimes of Islamophobia and hostility towards foreigners and Muslims. These crimes should be condemned and penalized. They should also be stopped by legal means which criminalize all forms of incitement to religious or racial hatred.

Civilization, democracy and freedom strongly oppose extremism and racism against others; they cannot thrive while disregarding values, symbols and sanctities. Instead, they should be built on solid foundations of peace, tolerance, mutual respect, dialogue and coexistence among nations, religions and civilizations.

The integrity of a society, group, or state that adopts freedom of opinion and expression as a slogan becomes questionable as long as it is incapable of respecting differences and understanding the other's values, customs, and sanctities.

Freedom, in general, can never be absolute as it must have bounds and limitations.  

Respecting others’ privacy, beliefs, and symbols is no less important than freedom of expression because, as human beings, we have different values, customs, and religions.

Therefore, we must understand and respect these differences to live, coexist, and build the best societies.


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