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.


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.

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Updated 6 sec ago

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

WASHINGTON: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sued the US Central Intelligence Agency and its former director Mike Pompeo on Monday, alleging it recorded their conversations and copied data from their phones and computers.
The attorneys, along with two journalists joining the suit, are Americans and allege that the CIA violated their US constitutional protections for confidential discussions with Assange, who is Australian.
They said the CIA worked with a security firm contracted by the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was living at the time, to spy on the WikiLeaks founder, his lawyers, journalists and others he met with.
Assange is facing extradition from Britain to the US, where he is charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing US military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Robert Boyle, a New York attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the alleged spying on Assange’s attorneys means the WikiLeaks founder’s right to a fair trial has “now been tainted, if not destroyed.”
“The recording of meetings with friends, with lawyers and the copying of his attorneys’ and friends’ digital information taints the criminal prosecution because now the government knows the contents of those communications,” Boyle told reporters.
“There should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities,” he said.
The suit was filed by attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.
They all visited Assange while he was living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London under political asylum, since withdrawn.
The suit named the CIA, former CIA director and former US secretary of state Pompeo, and the security firm Undercover Global and its chief executive David Morales Guillen.
It said Undercover Global, which had a security contract with the embassy, swept information on their electronic devices, including communications with Assange, and provided it to the CIA.
In addition it placed microphones around the embassy and sent recordings, as well as footage from security cameras, to the CIA, the suit alleges.
This, the attorneys said, violated privacy protections for US citizens.
Assange is awaiting a ruling on his appeal of the British extradition order to the United States.
The charges he faces could bring a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The suit said that Spain-based Undercover Global was recruited to work with the CIA in 2017 by officials from the Las Vegas Sands casino group.
Las Vegas Sands was at the time controlled by the late tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a powerful conservative backer of the Republican Party who, the suit said, “had cooperated with the CIA on similar matters in the past.”
The suit said that while Undercover Global controlled security at the embassy, each visitor had to leave their electronic devices with a guard before seeing Assange.
“The information contained on the plaintiff’s devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA,” they said.
“Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange,” the suit alleged.
It said the defendants became aware of the spying only when the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2019 that Morales and Undercover Global were under criminal investigation in Spain.
El Pais revealed information on the London operations that had previously been sealed in the case.

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Updated 15 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.

One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

Taliban fighters and supporters ride in a convoy to celebrate their victory day in Kandahar on August 15, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2022

One year since takeover, Taliban urge world to ‘improve relations’ with Afghanistan

  • Countries have refused to recognize the new government
  • Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since Taliban seized power

KABUL: Afghanistan’s acting Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund called on the international community to improve relations with the country on Monday as the Taliban marked the first anniversary of their return to power.

After the Taliban captured Kabul last August and US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the group’s stunning takeover marked the end of two decades of war that killed tens of thousands of Afghans on their soil.

The Taliban had declared Aug. 15 a national holiday just a day earlier, following a year that saw improved security but also increasing uncertainties about the country’s future.

With the new government still struggling to gain recognition from the international community a year later, the acting premier has urged for better relations.

“The world must improve its relations with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. We are not a threat to any country,” Akhund said in a statement.

“Other countries should also have positive political and economic engagement with Afghanistan.”

Under its new rulers, Afghanistan has been struggling to achieve growth and stability, as foreign governments’ refusal to recognize the Taliban has kept the country isolated.

The aid-dependent economy has been in freefall since the Taliban took over, with billions of dollars in foreign aid suspended and some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets parked overseas have been frozen.

On Monday, Taliban soldiers celebrated the anniversary with marches on the streets of Kabul as they carried their flags of the Islamic Emirate and played anthems.

“This is the day of the victory of right over wrong and the day of salvation and freedom of the Afghan nation,” Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.

The country is safer compared to when the Taliban were fighting against US-led troops and their Afghan allies, even as a local offshoot of the Islamic State has carried out several attacks in the past year.

But the UN has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the country, where nearly 20 million people out of the 38 million population are facing acute hunger.

Forty-year-old Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper at Kabul’s commercial area of Pul-e-Surkh, went about his daily business on Monday morning, despite the national holiday.

Amid increasing hardships, feeding his family is what matters most for Ali.

“We have to work every day to earn some income and feed our children. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, no one cares much about ordinary people,” Ali told Arab News.

“There are so many anniversaries. This is just another one. When we have enough food on our destarkhan, that’s the best celebration for us,” he said, referring to the meal-setting placement on the ground or floor that is commonplace across Afghanistan.  

The day prompted questions about the future for 21-year-old Shamsia Amini, whose dream of becoming a soccer player was shattered last year when the Taliban barred women from all sports.

“So many women’s aspirations were put on hold for an uncertain time. We don’t even know whether we will have a future under the Taliban,” she told Arab News.

Women’s rights have been curtailed in the past year, as women were ordered to wear face coverings in public, banned from making long-distance journeys alone and prevented from working in most sectors outside of health and education. Education has also been limited for women, even though allowing girls into schools and colleges was one of the key demands made by the international community.

“We should all, men and women, remember Aug. 15 as a dark day for Afghan women,” she added.

Qasim Haqmal, a Taliban soldier based in Kabul, told Arab News that the victory and freedom the group gained a year ago was what Afghans wanted.

“We are trying our best to serve the people the best way possible,” Haqmal said. “I ask people to have some patience.”


Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.