Stockholm, Sweden – A man who was expected to burn the Torah and the Bible outside the Israeli embassy has abandoned the plan and held a demonstration against desecrating holy books.
Ahmad Alloush, 32, pulled a lighter from his string bag and threw it to the ground in Swedish capital on Saturday, saying he had never intended to burn holy books.
He then brought out a Quran and criticised previous incidents where copies of the Islamic holy book were burned in Sweden.
“If you want to criticise Islam, that is OK”, he said. But burning the Quran is “not freedom of expression”, he continued, switching from Swedish to English; it is “an action”.
Swedish courts have previously permitted the burnings as they constitutionally protected the right to freedom of assembly, expression and demonstration.
“This is a response to those who burned the Quran – freedom of speech has its limits”, Alloush said.
He could never burn a holy book, he repeatedly said in both Arabic and Swedish; he just wanted to demonstrate against the burning of the Quran.
“I made people angry,” he conceded when asked about the reaction to the news that someone planned to burn the Torah and the Bible in Stockholm. “They can be happy now”, he quipped.
Alloush said he was originally from Syria but had lived in Sweden for eight years and was based in the southwestern Borås municipality.
Sweden’s constitutional conundrum
The protest comes two weeks after Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee, burned the Quran in front of a Stockholm mosque during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
There has been little popular support for the burning of holy books within Sweden and no political appetite for the events.
Sweden’s global image has suffered in the wake of the recent burning, as governments in several Muslim countries condemned the decision to allow the burning to take place.
The Swedish foreign ministry has condemned the acts as “Islamophobic”, stating, “The burning of the Quran, or any other holy text, is an offensive and disrespectful act and a clear provocation. Expressions of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance have no place in Sweden or Europe”.
A recent poll conducted on behalf of Swedish national television broadcaster SVT showed that the majority of Swedish people support a ban on the public burning of religious texts.
Sweden could enact a law on incitement against ethnic groups but only to restrict what can be said and where the burnings can occur. A complete ban on desecrating holy scriptures would require a law which Sweden scrapped in the 1970s to be reintroduced.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a resolution on religious hatred and bigotry following the burnings in Sweden.
The motion passed on Wednesday but was opposed by the United States and the European Union, which said it conflicts with their positions on human rights and freedom of expression.