A copy of the Koran was burned by Salwan Momika, an Iraqi who fled his country to Sweden, during an authorized gathering in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque on Wednesday. Turkey condemned an “unacceptable” act when Morocco recalled its ambassador to Sweden.
An incident could cloud Sweden’s prospects of joining NATO, which Turkey is blocking. A man set fire to a few pages of a copy of the Koran in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque in a “rally” sanctioned by Swedish police on Wednesday 28 June.
The event, which coincides with Eid al-Adha, a holiday celebrated by Muslims around the world, gathered around 100 spectators and journalists.
Wearing beige chinos and a light-colored shirt, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old Iraqi who fled his country for Sweden, stomped on the Koran several times before slipping slices of bacon into it and burning a few pages, according to AFP journalists at the place.
An act that provokes the anger of Ankara and Rabat
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan immediately condemned the incident on Twitter: “It is unacceptable to allow these anti-Islamic acts under the pretext of freedom of expression.”
Washington joined the criticism, saying it supported Sweden’s NATO membership “as soon as possible”. “We have always said that burning religious texts is disrespectful and offensive,” deputy foreign ministry spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.
Morocco, for its part, condemned an “offensive and irresponsible” act and recalled its ambassador to Sweden, according to an official press release.
The subject is sensitive in the Nordic country. A demonstration in January in which a Koran was burned in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm had already angered Ankara and the Muslim world, leading to demonstrations and calls for a boycott of Swedish products.
The ambition to see the Koran banned in Sweden
Earlier in the day, the police announced that they would approve the “assembly” given that the “security risks” associated with the burning of the Koran “were not of such a nature that they prohibit it”. But in the end, she announced that she was filing a complaint against the organizer, specifically for incitement to hatred.
In his request for prior permission, the organizer of the book burning, Salwan Momika, said he wanted to “express (his) opinion about the Koran”. “I will tear up the Koran and burn it,” he wrote. Salwan Momika had made a similar request in February, which was rejected by the police.
According to an article in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet dated April 5, Salwan assured Momika that his intention was not to complicate Swedish membership of the Atlantic Alliance. “I don’t want to harm this country that has welcomed me and that has preserved my dignity,” he told the paper, adding that he wanted to see the Koran banned in Sweden.
Police in Stockholm had rejected two demonstrations in February – including one launched by Salwan Momika – where copies of Islam’s holy book were planned to be burned, citing the risk of disruption to public order.
In the process, the protesters had appealed the decision, believing that their constitutional right to demonstrate had been violated. An administrative court had given them justification in early April.
In mid-June, the Court of Appeal upheld the verdict handed down in the first instance, indicating that the security risks the police had put forward “did not have a sufficiently clear connection” with the assemblies in question.
It is against this background that the Swedish police made their decision on Wednesday, just a few days before the Vilnius summit, on July 11 and 12, where Stockholm is hoping for progress on its accession to NATO.
Ankara is blocking Sweden’s NATO bid, which requires a unanimous green light from alliance members, over what it sees as Stockholm’s failure to crack down on Kurdish groups based in Sweden that it considers “terrorists”. Talks will bring together representatives of the two countries in Brussels on July 6, announced the Alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday.