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Religious freedom deficit in Sweden

By Xin Ping | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-05-30 09:42

Cars are engulfed by flames after protests broke out in Malmo, Sweden, early on Monday. TT/AP

In the latest Easter weekend, riots erupted in Sweden over Quran burning led by Rasmus Paludan, a Swedish-Danish extremist and leader of the far-right political party Stram Kurs ("Hard Line"). The radicals deliberately chose areas frequented by Muslims like mosques for their provocations which quickly evolved into clashes with counter-protesters.

This isn't the first time that Paludan had committed profanity against Islam, nor the first time that he had to pay a price for doing so. Two years ago, he was banned from entering Sweden after his application for an anti-Muslim demonstration there was denied. In 2020, he was sentenced to a month in a Danish prison for racism. The latest act of provocation aroused fury far beyond Sweden. Muslim countries including Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and Iraq condemned the burning of the Quran by the radicals. Some countries summoned Swedish ambassadors, warning that such an act could imperil bilateral relations.

The message is clear: there should be tolerance, acceptance and co-existence among different races and religions. Hatred and violence targeting any particular religion is unacceptable. Nonetheless, the Swedish authorities allowed the dangerous spark to evolve into a flame, exacerbating the division in the Swedish society. Facing mounting pressure from the public, the Swedish police justified their inaction to stop the gathering of the radicals on the grounds of protecting freedom of speech.

Even some Swedish media, supposedly defenders of freedom of speech, was complicit in inciting the racially and religiously motivated riots. According to Al Jazeera, Swedish national broadcaster SVT sacked a correspondent who called Paludan an idiot and told him to "go home". The correspondent's word choice was inappropriate indeed, but labeling it as a violation of the company's "impartiality policy" is putting the wrong person in the defendant's seat. It is Rasmus Paludan who desecrated Islam, but the indifference and coldness of the Swedish elites toward the Muslim community' call for respect and fair treatment is even more chilling.

What happened in Sweden shows a deficit in the protection of religious freedom, if not all freedoms in the country. It is yet another reminder that Islamophobia is still alive in some Western societies.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson recognized the "parallel societies in Sweden" between the immigrants and the born-and-raised Swedish population. Integration of the newcomers is crucial for ensuring the cohesion and harmony of the country. Sweden needs to match its words with actions by making the racial,ethnic and religious minorities feel included in the country they now call home.

Unfortunately, blinded by pride and prejudice, some Swedish politicians have pointed fingers at other countries in the name of protecting freedom and human rights. With Sweden's own promise of religious freedom unfulfilled, it is time to give up the double standards and get their own house in order.

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for CGTN, Global Times, Xinhua News Agency, etc.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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