The Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, has said that he is “extremely worried” about the consequences if more demonstrations go ahead in which the Qur’an is desecrated, amid growing Muslim anger at a series of attacks on Islam’s holy book.
Attacks on the Qur’an in Sweden and Denmark have offended many Muslim countries, including Turkey, whose backing Sweden needs to join Nato – a goal of Stockholm’s after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Kristersson told the Swedish news agency TT that further requests had been filed with police for permission to hold protests where desecration of the Qur’an was again planned.
“If they are granted, we are going to face some days where there is a clear risk of something serious happening,” he said. “I am extremely worried about what it could lead to.”
Ulf Kristersson said it was up to the police to grant permission for the protests. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad was stormed and set on fire on 20 July by protesters angered by a planned Qur’an burning.
Kristersson said the decision whether to grant permission for the demonstrations was up to the police.
On Wednesday, Kristersson and other Swedish officials said the country had been the target of a disinformation campaign in which “Russia-backed actors” had attempted to damage the country’s image by implying it supported the burnings.
The minister for civil defence, Carl-Oskar Bohlin, said: “Russia-backed actors are amplifying incorrect statements such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures.”
Sweden’s security service, Sapo, has kept its assessment of the threat level at 3 on a scale of 5, signifying an “elevated threat” during the crisis, but its head said there had been a strong reaction to recent events. “Sweden has gone from being seen as a tolerant country to being seen as an anti-Islamic land,” Charlotte von Essen told reporters on Thursday.
Denmark and Sweden have said they deplore the burning of the Qur’an but cannot prevent it under rules protecting free speech.
Sweden has accused other countries – such as Russia – of manipulating the crisis to damage its interests and its effort to join Nato.
“In some countries there is a perception that the Swedish state is behind, or condones, this. We don’t,” the Swedish foreign minister, Tobias Billström, said on Thursday. “These are acts committed by individuals, but they do it within the framework of freedom of speech laws,” he said.
Billström said he had been in touch with the foreign ministers of Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon, among others, as well as the UN secretary-general about the current crisis. He said he would shortly be speaking to the secretary-general of the multinational Organisation of Islamic Cooperation
“We will discuss these issues and it’s important to stress that this is a long-term issue – there are no quick fixes,” he said.
The Swedish government is facing a difficult balancing act in defending far-reaching freedom of speech laws, while at the same time avoiding potential insult to Muslims.
Its position is not made easier by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party, whose support keeps the right-of-centre coalition in power, though it is not formally part of the government.
Members of the Sweden Democrats, the biggest party on the right, have repeatedly warned about the “Islamisation” of Swedish society and called for immigrants to adopt “Swedish” values.
Source The Guardian