Stop Islamophobia

Published July 4, 2023

IT is not impossible to distinguish between freedom of speech and malicious actions calculated to insult and offend. And it should be clear, especially to the Western world, that the desecration of the Holy Quran comes under the second category.

The appalling incident, where an Iraqi refugee burned a copy of the Holy Book outside a mosque in the Swedish capital, is not the first of its kind. Nor is it likely to be the last — unless Western nations go beyond the usual condemnation and pass and enforce strict laws to deter those whose hate-filled narrative against the world’s 1.8bn Muslims continues to be fanned by the lethargy of governments.

A similar incident took place in Stockholm in January, when a politician from the far-right desecrated the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy — an act for which he received a mere rap on the knuckles when the Swedish prime minister described it as “deeply disrespectful”. Preceding this description was his assertion: “But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate.”

Perhaps it is the ‘legality’ of such atrocious actions — and not only in Sweden — that needs to be questioned. Following the recent incident, condemnation has poured in from all sides. The EU has termed it “an act provocation”, saying, “manifestations of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance have no place in Europe” — which, unfortunately, has hardly proved factual, as so many anti-Islam incidents in various European countries have demonstrated.

Sweden has voiced similar criticism of the latest episode, but added that the country had a “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration”.

The Pope was more to the point when he said, “Freedom of speech should never be used as a means to despise others and allowing that is rejected and condemned”. The 57-member OIC, meanwhile, has called for the application of international law “which clearly prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred”.

Europe will never forget the dark days of Hitler and World War II when six million Jews were sent to their death. Images and stories from that era are etched not only on the memory of the individuals who lived through those times but also on the soul of the generations that followed. In 2005, the UN designated Jan 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Several European countries have laws that criminalise Holocaust denial. The world today is going down a similar path of hate — against ethnic and religious communities, against minorities, against the ‘other’.

It was this venom spewed on the Muslim world that led the UN to designate March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. Just as Europe, and countries outside it, seek to curb anti-Semitism, they should deploy all, including legal, means to stop the march of Islamophobia before it’s too late.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2023

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