Asked whether the burning of a holy book is an act of freedom of expression, the Swedish foreign minister said it remains “an open question.”
Qatar and other Muslim nations should take firm action against Sweden for an incident that involved the burning of a copy of the Quran, a top Qatari official urged, as Turkish President Erdogan Recep Tayyip ruled out his country’s support for Sweden at NATO.
Shura Council member Essa bin Ahmad Al-Nassr called for urgent and firm action against Sweden and any other country found to be insulting Islam, in comments made during an Arab Parliament meeting in Cairo on Monday.
“We have to call on our governments to take firm action against those countries, including the severance of ties with Sweden and other countries that target the dignity of our Muslim religion,” Al-Nassr said in a video shared on his Twitter page.
“We do not want to follow their steps and take the same measures. We have morals and values, we respect religions and holy books,” he said.
“Enough statements, enough with calling for forgiveness, enough with calling for unity of civilisations. There is no unity of civilisations under double standards employed by the the west,” he added, doubling down on the need for action.
The parliamentarian’s comments come amid ongoing outrage after Swedish authorities authorised a protest that saw far-right leader, Rasmus Paludan, light the holy Quran on fire in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm on Saturday.
Paludan, surrounded by police, attacked Islam and immigration during a nearly hour-long tirade before setting fire to the holy book.
Shortly after the incident, Qatar’s foreign ministry lashed out at Sweden and denounced the move, saying the “vile incident is an act of incitement and a serious provocation to the feelings of more than two billion Muslims in the world.”
Other countries joined in condemning the move, including Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait.
In a statement on Sunday, Sweden’s prime minister Ulf Kristersson said the far-right leader’s move was “not necessarily appropriate” though fell short of condemning the incident.
“Freedom of expression is a fundamental part of democracy. But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate,” Kristersson said in a tweet, adding that burning holy books “is a deeply disrespectful act”.
“ I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims who are offended by what has happened in Stockholm today,” the Swedish official said.
In a tweet, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned the burning of the holy scripture, calling on Sweden to condemn it.
“Freedom of speech should not be a pretext for extremists to ignite the fire of hatred between followers of different religions,” Aboul Gheit said while mentioning the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter.
Kristersson’s statement garnered more outrage, with many Muslims calling out authorities in Sweden for not taking action against Paludan.
Haytham Abokhalil, a television presenter and human rights advocate, said “sympathy is not enough”.
“You are a senior official with the rank of prime minister… What happened is a crime against freedom of belief, as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Sweden signed.. The perpetrators must be arrested and brought to trial, and a practical example of freedom of expression that does not harm the beliefs of others must be presented,” he said.
Meanwhile, protests erupted in Muslim countries, including Turkey and Pakistan, which has been described as “a victory” for the religion.
“The uprising of the Muslim people of Turkey is a victory for the Quran and Islam, representing all Muslims,” Jaber Al Harmi , prominent Qatari journalist, said on Twitter.
‘An open question’
The incident occurred as Stockholm seeks Ankara’s support to join NATO. Turkey’s NATO membership grants it power to block applications for other states seeking to join the military alliance.
However, Ankara immediately cancelled a crucial bilateral trip by Sweden’s Defence Minister Pal Jonson to Turkey in response to the burning of the holy book.
“At this point, Swedish Defense Minister Pal Jonson’s visit to Turkey on Jan. 27 has lost its significance and meaning, so we canceled the visit,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Saturday.
With tensions mounting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Monday that Sweden “can no longer expect” its support to join the alliance.
“Those who allow such blasphemy in front of our embassy [in Stockholm] can no longer expect our support for their NATO membership,” Erdogan said in his first official comment since the Sweden incident.
“If you do not show respect to the religious beliefs of the Republic of Turkiye or Muslims, you will not receive any support for NATO [membership] from us,” the Turkish president added.
In an apparent cautious response to Erdogan, Sweden’s foreign minister Tobias Billstrom said he cannot comment on the Turkish president’s remarks.
However, Billstrom stressed that his country does not support the burning of the Quran, while maintaining that freedom of expression “makes it legal from a Swedish point of view.”
“The Swedish government has been very clear that we both have freedom of expression in Sweden, but we also have made it very clear that we do not side with those people who have committed this,” Billstrom told the press, as quoted by Anadolu Agency (AA).
His answer was in response to a question during the press briefing, in which he was asked whether burning a book of another religion constitutes freedom of expression.
The Swedish diplomat said that “is always an open question”, he added.