IT is difficult to accept the free speech argument being used to ‘defend’ frequent acts of desecration by extremists targeting symbols held dear by over a billion Muslims the world over. The fact is that these offensive acts are committed by those with a visceral hatred for Islam and Muslims, and often this animus manifests itself in the shape of grotesque violence. There can be nothing but condemnation of the burning of the Holy Quran in the Swedish capital Stockholm over the weekend by a far-right politician. It goes without saying that a serious discussion in the EU and the West in general is necessary to prevent such outrages from happening again and again. The culprit committed the act in front of the Turkish embassy, and has indulged in similarly hateful behaviour earlier as well. The desecration has been widely condemned by the OIC and individual Muslim states, including Pakistan, while the Swedish PM has criticised the crime as “deeply disrespectful”.
While freedom of expression and belief may be fundamental rights, when religious symbols are attacked by Islamophobes, it sends the signal that violence against Muslims is acceptable. After all, the terrorists who were involved in the mass murder of Muslims in New Zealand and Norway, for example, were from the same ideological gene pool as the character involved in the Stockholm incident. Apart from deeply hurting Muslims and promoting a culture of Islamophobic violence, such acts also embolden extremists within the Islamic world and harm efforts to bring civilisations and cultures together. Instead of issuing mere condemnations, Western states need to consider taking action against those who indulge in inflammatory acts targeting Islam’s sacred symbols. Just as Holocaust denial has been outlawed in many states, desecrating the Quran or the Holy Prophet (PBUH) should also be penalised. Just as Holocaust denial is not covered by free speech laws, attacks on sacred symbols of all faiths must similarly be prohibited.
Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2023