You’ll know about the Koran burning that took place near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm the other week, and the reaction to it of Turkey’s president Erdogan, which was to seek to block Sweden’s application to join NATO. Of course there were other reasons for this too, chief of which appears to be Sweden’s refusal to extradite over a hundred Kurdish refugees whom Erdogan considers to be ‘terrorists’.

But it’s the koranbränning which has dominated the headlines here; touching as it does on two sensitive issues in Sweden: firstly foreign immigration and the Islamophobia that is perceived to accompany it; and secondly the broader question of  ‘free speech’, which is much valued here. There’s also a third issue that probably should be discussed in this connection, but very rarely is. That’s the possible involvement in it of our old bugbear Russia, as suggested here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/27/burning-of-quran-in-stockholm-funded-by-journalist-with-kremlin-ties-sweden-nato-russia. Even if he didn’t directly provoke it, the affair is a God-given opportunity for Putin to weaken NATO, Europe, and his current notion of ‘The West’ generally; and possibly to win over to his side the millions of Moslems who lived in the old Russian and Soviet empires, in his war against Ukraine.

To those of us in the liberal, corrupt and irreligious West, as Putin sees us, it’s irritating – to say the least – to conceive of the whole peace of the world’s being threatened by something as trivial as the physical destruction of a single copy of a supposedly ‘holy’ book. For us it appears like a victory of primitive superstition over ‘enlightenment’; a historical regression, in other words.

Yet I suppose we must take it seriously, in the interests of world peace. ‘Free speech’ after all, isn’t absolute, if it carries the danger of provoking panic or violence. (I believe it was John Stuart Mill who gave the example of a man shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded auditorium.) The Swedish authorities could have banned Rasmus Paludan’s little show on these grounds. Perhaps they should have done. (Would it have been allowed in the UK?) But it would still have left a bad taste in any reasonable person’s mouth: to have been effectively blackmailed into giving in to toxic irrationalism (and, at a second remove, to Russia) in this way. The effect on me personally, and I imagine others, has been to turn us against dogmatic religion – of any kind – even more; thus no doubt adding to what is called ‘Islamophobia’.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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1 Response to Koranbränning

  1. On the other hand, it is hard to muster much enthusiasm for “Paludan’s little show”.
    Book burning has a sorry history.
    It hardly rates, for example, with the symbolic acts of defiance occurring in Iran, at great cost to the protesters.

    Liked by 1 person

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