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No room for provocation: Qur’an burning in Sweden an incitement of hate

No room for provocation: Qur’an burning in Sweden an incitement of hate

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Hate speech covers many forms of expression that incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons.

In Sweden, hate speech poses a grave danger to the cohesion of democratic society, the protection of human rights, and the rule of law.

Plans by Sweden’s far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam group Stram Kurs, led by Rasmus Paludan, to burn the Qu’ran in the month of Ramadan, go against the sovereign nation’s civil laws and its values.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed its condemnation and denunciation of the far-right  group’s actions in deliberately provoking and inciting hate against Muslims.

The Kingdom stressed the importance of concerted efforts to spread the values of dialogue, tolerance and coexistence, rejecting hatred, extremism and exclusion, and preventing abuse of all religions and sanctities.

Saudi Arabia has always been keen to respect cultures and religions and jointly established an international organization under the Center for Interfaith Dialogue.

The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue was founded in 2012 by Saudi Arabia, Austria and Spain, with the Vatican as an observing founding member.

The center is located in Vienna and seeks to advance the process of dialogue and understanding among followers of multiple religions and cultures. It also promotes a culture of respect for diversity and establishes the rules of justice and peace among nations and peoples. Its board of directors comprises religious leaders, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus.

In the past, we have seen a fierce campaign, whether through traditional or new media, to undermine Muslims; a problematic notion since Muslims represent more than 1.5 billion of the world’s population. These campaigns are carried out in an openly hostile manner and, in many cases, under what is called democracy or freedom of expression.

The strange thing is that freedom of speech is supposed to be in the interest of humanity and is based on civilized values that respect others and their religion, coexisting with no differentiation or prejudice against race, or undermining religious symbols or subjecting them to ridicule.

In the past, this interpretation of free expression was expressed through 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Sept. 30, 2005.

Terrorists and criminals who do not respect other religions and cultures, and who seek to inflame differences and drag the world into religious wars, must not be given the space to freely express their briefs with little or no regard for the consequences of their actions.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri

On Jan. 10, 2006, the Norwegian newspaper Magazinet, German newspaper Die Welt, French newspaper France Soir and other newspapers in Europe republished the images. Their publication hurt the feelings of the vast majority of Muslims and was met with a great wave of condemnation at different political levels of the Muslim world.

Another form of inciting hate toward Muslims was through attacks on places of worship, such as the Christchurch Mosque terror attacks in New Zealand in 2019 by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, an Australian terrorist. He killed more than 51 Muslims at two mosques.

Such demagogic actions do not serve the values of peace, coexistence and the civilized world. Instead, they will take us back to the dark ages under the pretext of freedom of expression.

Such atrocities would not be carried out if there were regulations and laws criminalizing such heinous acts, which would lead to more reactions and riots, or even worse, such as was case with the storming of the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris in 2015.

But we must not lose sight of newspapers’ responsibilities when they published cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

In the case of Charlie Hebdo, Saudi Arabia condemned both parties, holding accountable both the magazine and the attackers, who caused the death of 12 people and the injury of 11 others.

Let us not forget that these drawings were an act of terrorism against more than 1.5 billion Muslims.

Humanity is reeling from a pandemic. Though the world is still struggling to overcome it, the upside was that it allowed people to forget their differences in religion, language and race, and join forces to confront the threat of COVID-19. This effort should be directed toward fighting bigotry and Islamophobic rhetoric and actions.

The world might soon face food shortages due to the Russia-Ukraine war, which calls for a concerted effort to resolve the conflict peacefully. With its different cultures, races and religions, the world must think about the future of its children and avoid further conflicts that divide efforts and create disasters.

Terrorists and criminals who do not respect other religions and cultures, and who seek to inflame differences and drag the world into religious wars, must not be given the space to freely express their briefs with little or no regard for the consequences of their actions.

• Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri Is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @DrHamsheri.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Saudi Arabia, other Islamic countries condemn Swedish far-right group’s plan to burn copies of the Qur’an

This photograph taken on April 17, 2022 shows a burning car near Rosengard in Malmo, Sweden, during riots sparked by a far-right group to publicly burn copies of the Qur'an. (Johan Nilsson / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP)
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Updated 19 April 2022

Saudi Arabia, other Islamic countries condemn Swedish far-right group’s plan to burn copies of the Qur’an

  • Sweden rocked by violence after Rasmus Paludan and his Stram Kurs called for a mass book-burning 
  • Saudi foreign ministry accuses the far-right group of “incitement against Muslims,” calls for dialogue 

JEDDAH: Arab and Muslim countries have strongly condemned plans by Sweden’s notorious far-right group Stram Kurs to burn copies of the Qur’an, the holiest book in Islam, during the month of Ramadan.

Clashes broke out in Norrkoping, Linkoping, Rinkeby, Malmo, Orebro, and the capital Stockholm over the weekend as police tried to prevent the book-burning taking place.

Saudi Arabia condemned the group’s “deliberate” abuse of the Qur’an as an incitement against Muslims, calling instead for the promotion of a culture of dialogue, tolerance and religious coexistence.

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“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the deliberate abuse of the Holy Qur’an, provocations and incitement against Muslims by some extremists in Sweden,” the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The Kingdom stressed the importance of renouncing hatred, extremism and exclusion, while also promoting efforts to prevent abuses against all religious groups and holy sites.

Stram Kurs’s plans were condemned by Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Malaysia and Qatar, among others. Objections were also lodged by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Muslim World League, and the Arab Parliament, the legislative body of the Arab League.

 

In a statement on Monday, Swedish police said 40 people had been injured, including 26 police officers, more than 20 vehicles had been damaged or destroyed, and 26 people had been arrested in the days of violence.

Danish-Swedish lawyer and far-right politician Rasmus Paludan, who founded Stram Kurs in 2017, had planned to attend the demonstration in Norrkoping on Sunday, but according to Swedish media he never arrived.




In this picture taken on Sept. 4, 2021, in Stockholm, Sweden, Danish-Swedish hate preaching politician Rasmus Paludan shows a copy of the Qur'an, which he later tore apart and put on fire. (Pelle T. Nilsson/Swedish Press Agency)

 


In a statement released by Stram Kurs late on Sunday, Paludan said the rally had been canceled because organizers felt the Swedish police were unable to “protect themselves and me.”

The controversy began on April 15 when Paludan shared a picture with his 4,700 Instagram followers of himself holding a book that appears to be burned at the corners. The caption reads: “Qur’an burning in Rinkeby.”

The following day, he appeared to call upon his social media followers to imitate his action with a post reading: “Time to burn the Qur’an.”




Counter-protesters throw stones at the police in Orebro, Sweden, on April 15, 2022, ahead of a demonstration planned by Danish anti-Muslim gang Stram Kurs. (Kicki Nilsson/ TT News Agency/via REUTERS)

Although still a fringe group in Scandinavian politics, Stram Kurs has gained traction in recent years, particularly in the wake of the 2015 European refugee crisis, when millions of people fleeing conflict and instability in the Middle East, Africa and Asia began arriving on European soil.

Stram Kurs and other groups on the far right routinely seek to stir up hostility against Muslims, economic migrants and refugees, even calling for the mass deportation of these groups in order to, in their words, preserve Sweden’s authentic ethnic identity.

Paludan, who intends to stand in Sweden’s legislative elections in September, is currently touring the country to secure support for his candidacy, often deliberately campaigning in areas with large Muslim communities.




Police officers chase rioters in in Orebro, Sweden, ahead of a demonstration planned by Danish anti-Muslim politician Rasmus Paludan and his Stram Kurs party on April 15, 2022. (Paul Wennerholm/ TT News Agency/via REUTERS)

This is not the first time Paludan has sought to provoke Muslims with calls to publicly burn the Qur’an. In November 2020, his website urged supporters in Paris to assemble at the Arc de Triomphe to “burn the Qur’an in preparation for the peaceful public assembly.”

That same month, Paludan also urged supporters to gather in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, where “the European patriots will burn the Qur’an in blatant contempt of the religion of Islam.”

For inciting hatred against the Muslim community on Stram Kurs’ social media accounts, Paludan was sentenced to a month in jail in 2020. The previous year, he was handed a suspended sentence for racism and faced 14 charges, including defamation and dangerous driving.

Paludan is also not the first public figure to incite hatred by attempting to burn copies of the Qur’an. In 2010, Terry Jones, a Florida pastor and founder of the nondenominational Dove World Outreach Center, vowed to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by burning the Islamic text.




Palestinian Muslims read the Qur'an in the Al-Omari mosque during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City on April 18, 2022. (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto)

The planned burning drew worldwide condemnation, with even the Vatican and the UN urging Pastor Jones not to go ahead with it.

David Petraeus, then commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, warned the burning could be exploited by the Taliban and other extremist groups to garner support or promote acts of terrorism on Western soil.




Iranian students demonstrate in front of the Swedish embassy in Tehran, on April 18, 2022, to protest a Swedish far-right group's plan to burn the Muslim holy book. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

“It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community,” Petraeus said at the time.

Then-president Barack Obama likewise warned, when asked about Pastor Jones’ plan on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” that the Qur’an burning “could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in US cities or European cities.”

Following the outcry, Pastor Jones did not go ahead with the mass burning on the 9/11 anniversary.

It remains to be seen whether similar condemnation will dissuade Paludan and Stram Kurs supporters from going ahead with their own burning.

Decoder

What is the Stram Kurs?

Stram Kurs, or Hard Line, is a far-right political party in Denmark founded in 2017 by politician Rasmus Paludan. The hate-preaching politician's call on April 18, 2022, for a mass-burning of the Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, triggered riots in Sweden. In 2019, he was convicted of posting anti-Islam videos on his party's social media channels, was given a suspended jail term for racism, and was disbarred for three years as a criminal lawyer and banned from driving for a year.


UK police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

Updated 19 May 2022

UK police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

LONDON: British police said on Thursday they had ended their investigation into COVID-19 lockdown parties held at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office, saying they had issued a total of 126 fines.
“Our investigation was thorough and impartial and was completed as quickly as we could, given the amount of information that needed to be reviewed and the importance of ensuring that we had strong evidence for each FPN (fixed penalty notice) referral,” London Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Helen Ball said.
“This investigation is now complete.”


One person wounded in German school shooting — police

Updated 19 May 2022

One person wounded in German school shooting — police

BERLIN: Shots were fired at a German school in the northern city of Bremerhaven on Thursday and one person was wounded, police said.
One person was detained after the shooting and the injured person was taken to hospital, they said.
German paper Bild had reported that a second suspect was on the run, armed with a crossbow. Police said they were looking into whether more than one person was involved.
The shooting took place at the Lloyd Gymnasium, Bild reported.
Online newspaper Nord24 said a schoolgirl who heard shots had called the police. Students barricaded themselves in their classrooms, it added.

North Korea completes preparation for nuclear weapon test: Seoul lawmaker

Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea completes preparation for nuclear weapon test: Seoul lawmaker

  • Biden will arrive in Seoul late Friday for a series of summits
  • North Korea announced its first COVID-19 cases last week, and is now reporting hundreds of thousands of cases of “fever” daily

SEOUL: North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test and is seeking the best moment to carry it out, a South Korean lawmaker said Thursday, a day before US President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Seoul.
Despite North Korea’s recent Covid-19 outbreak, “preparations for a nuclear test have been completed and they are only looking for the right time,” lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters after being briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service.
The United States said earlier it believes there is a “genuine possibility” that North Korea could conduct a nuclear test while Biden is on his first trip as president to Asia.
Biden will arrive in Seoul late Friday for a series of summits.
“Our intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility” of nuclear-capable missile tests or a nuclear weapon test around the time of Biden’s trip, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
Satellite imagery indicates North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test, and the United States and South Korea have been warning for weeks that it could come any day.
North Korea announced its first COVID-19 cases last week, and is now reporting hundreds of thousands of cases of “fever” daily, with analysts saying a test could help distract the regime from the outbreak.


Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

Updated 19 May 2022

Battle for Mariupol draws toward close after surrender

  • The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol

KYIV: The battle that turned Mariupol into a worldwide symbol of defiance and suffering drew toward a close as Russia said nearly 1,000 last-ditch Ukrainian fighters who held out inside a pulverized steel plant had surrendered.
Meanwhile, the first captured Russian soldier to be put on trial by Ukraine on war-crimes charges pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing a civilian and could get life in prison. Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO, abandoning generations of neutrality for fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not stop with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian fighters who emerged from the ruined Azovstal steelworks after being ordered by their military to abandon the last stronghold of resistance in the now-flattened port city face an uncertain fate. Some were taken by the Russians to a former penal colony in territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
While Ukraine said it hopes to get the soldiers back in a prisoner swap, Russia threatened to put some of them on trial for war crimes.
Amnesty International said the Red Cross should be given immediate access to the fighters. Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty’s deputy director for the region, cited lawless executions allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine and said the Azovstal defenders “must not meet the same fate.”
It was unclear how many fighters remained inside the plant’s labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers, where 2,000 were believed to be holed up at one point. A separatist leader in the region said no top commanders had emerged from the steelworks.
The plant was the only thing standing in the way of Russia declaring the full capture of Mariupol. Its fall would make Mariupol the biggest Ukrainian city to be taken by Moscow’s forces, giving a boost to Putin in a war where many of his plans have gone awry.
Military analysts, though, said the city’s capture at this point would hold more symbolic importance than anything else, since Mariupol is already effectively under Moscow’s control and most of the Russian forces that were tied down by the drawn-out fighting have already left.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said 959 Ukrainian troops have abandoned the stronghold since they started coming out Monday.
Video showed the fighters carrying out their wounded on stretchers and undergoing pat-down searches before being taken away on buses escorted by military vehicles bearing the pro-Kremlin “Z” sign.
The US has gathered intelligence that shows some Russian officials have become concerned that Kremlin forces in Mariupol are carrying out abuses, including beating and electrocuting city officials and robbing homes, according to a USofficial familiar with the findings.
The Russian officials are concerned that the abuses will further inspire residents to resist the occupation and that the treatment runs counter to Russia’s claims that its military has liberated Russian speakers, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment.
Resistance fighting was reported in the occupied southern city of Melitopol, where the regional military administration said Ukrainians killed several high-ranking Russian officers and a Russian armored train carrying troops and ammunition overturned, causing the munitions to detonate.
The administration said on Telegram that the Russian military does not maintain the tracks and overloads the trains, and “with help” from resistance fighters the train derailed. The reports could not be independently confirmed.
In a sign of normalcy returning to Kyiv, the US Embassy reopened on Wednesday, one month after Russian forces abandoned their bid to seize the capital and three months after the outpost was closed. A dozen embassy employees watched solemnly as the American flag was raised. Other Western countries have been reopening their embassies in Kyiv as well.
In the war-crimes case in Kyiv, Russian Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old member of a tank unit, pleaded guilty to shooting an unarmed 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through a car window in the opening days of the war. Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said some 40 more war-crimes cases are being readied.
On the diplomatic front, Finland and Sweden could become members of NATO in a matter of months, though objections from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten to disrupt things. Turkey accuses the two countries of harboring Kurdish militants and others it considers a threat to its security.
Ibrahim Kalin, a foreign policy adviser and spokesman for Erdogan, said there will be “no progress” on the membership applications unless Turkey’s concerns are met. Each of NATO’s 30 countries has an effective veto over new members.
Mariupol’s defenders grimly clung to the steel mill for months and against the odds, preventing Russia from completing its occupation of the city and its port.
Its full capture would give Russia an unbroken land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. It also would allow Russia to focus fully on the larger battle for the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial east.
For Ukraine, the order to the fighters to surrender could leave President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government open to allegations it abandoned the troops he described as heroes.
“Zelensky may face unpleasant questions,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, who heads the independent Penta think tank in Kyiv. “There have been voices of discontent and accusations of betraying Ukrainian soldiers.”
A hoped-for prisoner swap could also fall through, he cautioned.
Russia’s main federal investigative body said it intends to interrogate the surrendering troops to “identify the nationalists” and determine whether they were involved in crimes against civilians.
Also, Russia’s top prosecutor asked the country’s Supreme Court to designate Ukraine’s Azov Regiment — among the troops that made up the Azovstal garrison — as a terrorist organization. The regiment has roots in the far right.
The Russian parliament was scheduled to consider a resolution to ban the exchange of any Azov Regiment fighters but didn’t take up the issue Wednesday.
Mariupol was a target of the Russians from the outset. The city — its prewar population of about 430,000 now reduced by about three-quarters — has largely been reduced to rubble by relentless bombardment, and Ukraine says over 20,000 civilians have been killed there.
In other developments, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Russia has begun using a prototype new laser weapon in Ukraine that is capable of hitting a target 5 kilometers (3 miles) away, state news agency Tass quoted him as saying on national television. He said it was tested Tuesday against a drone and incinerated it within five seconds.
Borisov said a new generation of laser weapons will eventually allow Russia to conserve its expensive long-range missiles.
Speaking late Wednesday in his nightly video address, Zelensky likened the Russian boast to Nazi Germany’s claims of Wunderwaffe, or wonder weapons, as the tide began to turn against it during World War II.
A senior US defense official said Wednesday that the US has seen nothing to corroborate the claims. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the US military assessment.


North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

The official Korean Central News Agency said over 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)
Updated 19 May 2022

North Korea’s suspected COVID-19 caseload nears 2 million

  • The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April

SEOUL: North Korea on Thursday reported 262,270 more suspected COVID-19 cases as its pandemic caseload neared 2 million — a week after the country acknowledged the outbreak and scrambled to slow infections in its unvaccinated population.
The country is also trying to prevent its fragile economy from deteriorating further, but the outbreak could be worse than officially reported since the country lacks virus tests and other health care resources and may be underreporting deaths to soften the political impact on authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s anti-virus headquarters reported a single additional death, raising its toll to 63, which experts have said is abnormally small compared to the suspected number of coronavirus infections.
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. Most are believed to have COVID-19, though only a few omicron variant infections have been confirmed. At least 740,160 people are in quarantine, the news agency reported.
North Korea’s outbreak comes amid a provocative streak of weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years in March. Experts don’t believe the COVID-19 outbreak will slow Kim’s brinkmanship aimed at pressuring the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
After maintaining a dubious claim that it had kept the virus out of the country for two and a half years, North Korea acknowledged its first COVID-19 infections May 12 and has described a rapid spread since. Kim has called the outbreak a “great upheaval,” berated officials for letting the virus spread and restricted the movement of people and supplies between cities and regions.
Workers were mobilized to find people with suspected COVID-19 symptoms who were then sent to quarantine — the main method of curbing the outbreak since North Korea is short of medical supplies and intensive care units that lowered COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in other nations.
State media images showed health workers in hazmat suits guarding Pyongyang’s closed-off streets, disinfecting buildings and streets and delivering food and other supplies to apartment blocks.

 The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April
The official Korean Central News Agency said more than 1.98 million people have become sick with fever since late April. (AFP)

Despite the vast numbers of sick people and the efforts to curb the outbreak, state media describe large groups of workers continuing to gather at farms, mining facilities, power stations and construction sites. Experts say North Korea cannot afford a lockdown that would hinder production in an economy already broken by mismanagement, crippling US-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons ambitions and pandemic border closures.