Far-right activists carried out a Quran burning at a rally in the coastal city of Malmo in southern Sweden this Friday. The incident provoked strong reaction from the Muslim immigrant population when, according to local police, around 300 protestors gathered to protest against anti-Islamic activities. The incident was staged by activists of far-right populist groups. The activists had gathered at an event in anticipation of an appearance from the Danish lawyer and politician Rasmus Paludan who is known for his anti-Muslim ethnonationalist views.
Protests in Malmo following Quran burning
Swedish authorities had worked quickly to handle the situation preemptively by denying Paludan entry and banning him from the country for two years as his actions posed “a threat to the fundamental interests of society,” according to Calle Persson, spokesman for the police in Malmo. He was eventually also arrested on account of attempting to attend the protest despite the ban. Paludan is a figure known to incite ethnic hatred and cause trouble; last year he gained attention from the media after a Quran burning incident in which he wrapped the Quran in bacon.
Following the ban, his followers went ahead and circulated a video of them burning a copy of the Quran. 3 people were also arrested for kicking a copy of the Quran in the main square. Despite the measures, the police were forced to confront protests by the largely Muslim gathering. The protestors burned cars, tires, rubbish bins, smashed bus shelters, and hurled rocks at the police and slowly grew more violent as the evening wore on.
A young man reportedly yelled, “We’re gonna fuck this system up because they want to let a man burn the Qur’an. And we’re gonna fuck the police.” Meanwhile, a prominent Malmo imam, Samir Muric, entreated the protestors to stop as through their actions, they were shaming their own religion. There were many more among the Muslim spectators who were against the protests, one of them reportedly saying, “I don’t like this, because the Arabs, they’re fucking things up for our community here in Sweden, because one Danish man burned a Qur’an. And this is what he wants. They want us to be like this. I’ve never seen this ever in my life. I’m shocked.”
SIAN protest outside parliament in Oslo
The following day, on Saturday, Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN), organized a rally outside the parliament building in Oslo. During the rally, a female activist started tearing pages from the Quran, provoking a reaction from the other side which eventually lead to a brawl leaving one injured and several arrested. The police had to resort to using tear gas and pepper spray in order to contain the counter-protestors and eventually escorted SIAN protestors away from the scene.
SIAN is one of the largest of a number of Stop Islamization groups. During the rally, SIAN leader Lars Thorsen made a speech in which he called Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) a “false prophet.” Rasmus Paludan also heads a political party by the name of Stram Kurs or Hard Line which is fashioned after his own ehnontaionalist views and aims to deport all Muslim immigrants from Denmark. Hard Line did not manage to win a seat in the Danish parliament last year, gaining just 1.8% of the votes.
Although still a ways away from gaining a significant following that can affect a change, such groups founded on Islamophobic sentiments are slowly growing in popularity. Historically, such sentiments can be traced back to what started as a reaction to the irreproachable status of Islam, what some would justify as an exercise in free speech. There are numerous examples such as Jyllands-Posten cartoons controversy or the tragic Charlie Hebdo attack and, admittedly, part of the blame can be placed on the Muslim world’s heavy-handed response to incidents in the past. However, the groups that have utilized this rhetoric to gain popularity over the years are much more sinister in nature and are founded on Islamophobia.
Part of the reason is an influx in Nordic countries of displaced refugees from war-torn countries, a significant example being Sweden’s charitable role in the Syrian refugee crisis. The many impediments that plague the integration of such communities provide fodder for hate groups to malign people against them. They bring up crime numbers and statistics of unemployment much in the same way as white nationalists in America argue against Black Lives Matter. The protests following actions such as Quran burning, which are explicitly carried out to provoke a reaction, only add fuel to the fire.