BAGHDAD: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE and other Middle Eastern nations on Thursday condemned the burning of the Quran by an Iraqi living in Sweden, warning such acts “inflame” the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Under a heavy police presence, Salwan Momika, a 37-year-old who fled to Sweden several years ago, on Wednesday stomped on the Quran before setting several pages alight in front of Stockholm’s largest mosque.
Police in the Swedish capital had granted him a permit for the protest in line with free-speech protections, but said later they had opened an investigation into the man over “agitation”.
Speaking at a daily press briefing, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Washington believes the demonstration created “an environment of fear” that effectively curbs the ability of Muslims to practice their religion freely.
“I will say that we do condemn it,” Miller said.
“We believe the demonstration created an environment of fear that will impact the ability of Muslims and members of other religious minority groups from freely exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief in Sweden,” he added.
“We also believe that issuing the permit for this demonstration supports freedom of expression and is not an endorsement of the demonstration’s actions.”
Miller declined to say whether the demonstration and its fallout would have an impact on Turkey-Sweden ties and therefore the latter’s Nato bid, but reiterated Washington’s position that the Nordic country was ready to join the alliance.
“It is time to move to full accession to Nato for Sweden,” he said.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan slammed Sweden over the burning of a Quran in Stockholm and said Turkey would never bow down to a policy of provocation or threat.
The incident occurred as Muslims around the world marked the Eid Al Adha holiday and as the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia was drawing to a close.
The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Sweden Liselott Andersson to express the UAE’s strong protest and condemnation of the Swedish government allowing extremists to burn copies of the Holy Quran in Stockholm.
The UAE stressed that Sweden disregarded its international responsibilities and demonstrated a lack of respect for social values in this regard, emphasiasing the importance of monitoring hate speech and expressions of racism that negatively impact peace and security.
Furthermore, the Ministry expressed its rejection of the use of freedom of expression as justification for such heinous acts.
Ayesha Bin Suwaidan Al Suwaidi, Director of the European Affairs Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered the note of protest to the Ambassador, affirming the UAE’s rejection of all practices aimed at undermining security and stability in contravention of human values and principles. The note underscored that hate speech and extremism can contribute to the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict worldwide.
Furthermore, the note stressed the need to respect religious symbols and avoid incitement and polarisation at a time when the international community needs to work together to reaffirm a commitment to upholding the universal principles of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The note also emphasised that these principles should be promoted and implemented to achieve stability, and sustainable development.
Earlier, UAE presidential adviser Anwar Gargash tweeted that the West "must realise that its value system... cannot be imposed on the world".
Swedish PM calls for calm
Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson on Friday called for calm and reflection.
“It is difficult to say what the consequences will be. I think there are many people who have reason to reflect,” Kristersson told a press conference.
“It is of course completely unacceptable to have people who unlawfully break into Swedish embassies in other countries,” Kristersson said.
The head of government added there was also no reason “to insult other people,” referring to Momika’s actions.
“I think that just because some things are legal they are not necessarily appropriate,” Kristersson said.
Kristersson stressed it was too early to say what the consequences of this week’s events would be.
“I think we should focus on the right things now, it’s important that Sweden becomes a member of NATO. We have important and large issues to deal with,” he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Sweden for allowing someone to burn the Quran, risking a repeat of tensions between the countries that previously derailed Sweden's bid to join NATO.
"Those who allow these under the pretext of freedom of expression and turn a blind eye to this viciousness, as well as those who have committed this crime, will not reach their goals" , Erdogan said in video message marking the Muslim Eid holiday, without specifying which goals he meant.
"We will teach the arrogant Western people that it is not freedom of expression to insult the sacred values of Muslims."
Iraq condemned the Swedish authorities’ decision to grant an “extremist” permission to burn the Quran.
Call for demonstrations
“These events inflame the feelings of Muslims around the world and represent a dangerous provocation for them,” the foreign ministry in Baghdad said.
Iraq's influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr called for a demonstration outside the Swedish embassy in Baghdad to demand the removal of the ambassador, charging that his state is "hostile to Islam".
Iran joined in the condemnation, calling the Quran burning “provocative, ill-considered and unacceptable”.
“The government and people of the Islamic Republic of Iran... do not tolerate such an insult and strongly condemn it,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani.
“The Swedish government is expected to seriously consider the principle of responsibility and accountability in this regard, while preventing the repetition of insulting the holy sanctities,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, which hosted around 1.8 million Muslim pilgrims for the Hajj which ended on Wednesday, also denounced the Quran burning.
“These hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification,” the Saudi foreign ministry said.
‘Freedoms as a ploy’
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, called the Quran burning a “disgraceful act provoking the feelings of Muslims” as they mark Eid.
The Cairo-based Arab League branded the Quran burning an “assault on the core of our Islamic faith”.
Kuwait called for perpetrators of such “hostile acts” to be brought to justice “prevented from using the principle of freedoms as a ploy to justify hostility against Islam or any holy faith”.
The Quran burning was also condemned by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and Morocco, which recalled its ambassador to Stockholm.
“This new offensive and irresponsible act disregards the feelings of more than a billion Muslims, at this sacred time of the great pilgrimage to Mecca and the blessed feast of Eid Al Adha,” the kingdom said.
“Faced with these repeated provocations, committed under the complacent gaze of the Swedish government”, Morocco summoned Sweden’s charge d’affaires in Rabat and recalled its ambassador, it added.
Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed movement Hezbollah charged the Swedish authorities were “complicit in the crime”.
Hezbollah called on Sweden to put an end to such acts “rather than hiding behind freedom of speech”.
It urged religious authorities and Muslim and Arab nations to take “all the necessary steps” to compel Sweden and other countries to prevent the recurrence of such incidents and stop “the spread of a culture of hate”.
In January, a Swedish-Danish right-wing extremist burned a copy of the Quran near the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, also triggering outrage in the Muslim world.