Sweden: In need of a law to criminalize Quran burning and religious contempt
Sweden does not live on another planet to ignore nations’ feelings and states’ positions, or to have laws that protect extremists and fanatics and encourage abuse, provoking and spreading hatred, because what happens in terms of offending followers of other religions or burning the Quran multiple times will not be accepted by Muslims or non-Muslims. The argument that says that what is happening is a matter of freedom of expression has become unacceptable and has distorted the idea of freedom of expression that we all know and believe in, as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and this right includes freedom to hold opinions without any interference, and to seek, receive and impart news and ideas through any means, regardless of geographical borders.”
This is the definition that we all know and that people agreed upon and signed in the Charter of the United Nations. There is nothing in freedom of expression that allows insulting religions and spreading hatred among people.
The United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed the same principle when, by a majority, it adopted a resolution in its session on July 12 condemning acts of religious hatred such as burning the Quran. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said about these practices, “These and other incidents appear to have been manufactured to express contempt and inflame anger; to drive wedges between people; and to provoke, transforming differences of perspective into hatred and, perhaps, violence.”
It is well known that just as freedom of expression was established in human rights charters, those same laws prohibited and criminalized contempt of religion. International criminal law imposes protection on holy places, criminalizes their violation, and considers it a war crime, according to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the two annexed protocols of 1977.
Violation of the aforementioned conventions is considered a war crime, and this is what was stipulated in the second paragraph of Article 8 and the ninth paragraph of Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, which deemed religion’s contempt as a crime against humanity because it expresses persecution and discrimination based on religion.
Defamation of religions is also considered a crime against humanity in all states parties to the International Criminal Court, as stipulated in Article 112 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, because it represents an attack on all humanity, and it also falls within the material element of the crime of religious persecution or racial discrimination based on religion or religious belief.
The reality today is that no one believes that what is happening in Sweden of repeated burnings of the Quran is merely a commitment to a law that allows freedom of expression. Freedom of expression has its origins and its methods that we know, and it was never acceptable when it was used to offend a person. So what if those offended are the followers of one of the largest religions on earth, and to a religion that calls for peace, coexistence, tolerance, and goodness for all human beings. If there is someone in Sweden who does not understand Islam, and if there is someone who thinks that Islam is ISIS or al-Qaeda or those extremist groups that claim to represent Islam, the Swedish government must play its role and explain to its people and to those who live on its land the truth of Islam and what this religion is.
An important part of the roles of governments is to work hard to ensure the security of society, avoid any religious or sectarian clash, and prevent extremists from offending others and disrespecting their religions. Therefore, Sweden may need to reconsider its concept of respecting followers of religions and beliefs and respecting people everywhere. Freedom of expression does not mean offending the faith of one and a half billion people, especially when it is clear that the aim of what happened is a deliberate provocation and a direct and public attempt to insult others.
When a copy of the Quran is burnt in front of the mosque on the first day of the greatest holiday for Muslims, Eid al-Adha, this is not freedom of expression but a deliberate insult and provocation.
As for what happened a few days ago in terms of assault and tearing the Iraqi flag in front of the Iraqi embassy in Sweden, this also contradicts respect for the sovereignty of states and diplomatic norms and respect for the symbols of countries that Sweden always claims to respect.
It seems that Sweden is in a test before the world and everyone is waiting for it to succeed and to restore its beautiful and civilized image, so it may be useful to reconsider its legislation and decisions that cause offense to others, that do not respect human rights and freedoms, and that incite hatred and encourage fanatics to persist in disrespecting religions. This demand does not seem difficult or impossible, especially since Sweden was at the forefront of countries that respect human rights, and viewed by Arabs, Muslims, and peoples of the world as a democratic and civilized country that respected everyone with no regards to religion, race, culture and color, and therefore it was a destination for many people to flee injustice and dictatorship and find freedom, justice, and peaceful coexistence. But what has been happening recently no longer reflects this image, not only for Muslims, but also for non-Muslims who follow other religions. Did Sweden choose to become a place for every fanatic who wants to burn the holy books? Today, copies of the Quran are burned, and tomorrow other holy books and religious symbols may be burned, which would cause a clash between religions that the world does not need.
Finally, it is important for Sweden, Denmark, and Norway to understand that burning a copy of the Quran will not harm Islam or devalue its holy book; however, it will disparage Sweden, and it may lose its beautiful image before the world as a leading country in human rights and freedoms, especially since we understand the position of the Swedish government that rejects such behavior and the position of most of the Swedish people who do not consider such acts as “freedom of expression”.