Explained: A far-right rally has left Sweden burning. What sparked the protests?
Sweden has been hit by days of unrest and protests, sparked by plans by a far-right group to burn copies of the Koran.
The protests began after the leader of the anti-immigration and anti-Islam group Stram Kurs, Danish-Swedish politician Rasmus Paludan announced his intention to burn the Koran. As protests were called off in the face of growing protests, agitators set fire to vehicles and threw rocks at police.
What do we know about the protests?
Paludan’s plans were initially given the green light by Swedish police, but cops kept him on hold, hoping the protests could die down. However, the commotion did not turn violent until four police cars were set on fire and five people, including four cops, were injured. On Monday, police said 40 people were injured, including 26 cops, and more than 20 vehicles were set on fire.
According to the police, more than 200 people were involved in violent demonstrations, which were allegedly organized by criminal gangs. More than 40 people have been arrested so far. Protesters threw rocks, attacked police barriers and even knocked down riot fences. Cars, tires and even garbage cans were set on fire and barriers were erected in the streets by protesters to block traffic.
The unrest took place in the cities where Paludan said he would hold his protests – Stockholm, Landskrona, Orebro, Malmo, Linkoping and Norrkoping
On Saturday, Paludan had addressed a rally in Malmö where protesters threw stones and the far-right leader was reportedly injured. In Norrköping, three demonstrators were reportedly injured by shots fired by police as a warning to disperse the crowd.
Anders Thornberg, the national police chief, said he had never witnessed violent riots on such a scale in the country, particularly in Norrkoping and Linkoping, according to the BBC. Swedish police commander Anders Wiberg said in a statement: “We do not condone the acts of violence that have occurred and now the police will start investigative work to prosecute the people who committed the crimes.”
The right that sparked the protests
The Swedish extremist anti-Islam party Stram Kurs was founded by Rasmus Paludan in 2017. The party’s website states: “Stram Kurs is Denmark’s most patriotic political party. We are because we have the basic position that we as a Danish political party must always prioritize the happiness of Danes over the happiness of everyone else! This should be an obvious position for any Danish political party, but unfortunately we are the only party to think so.
The party has repeatedly carried out anti-Islamic activities that have offended many Muslims living in the country. Besides public Quran burning protests, the party uses social media to push its agenda.
He also wants to ban Islam and specifically targets Muslims living in Denmark. The party had attempted to contest Denmark’s general election in 2019, but failed to garner significant support. In 2020 he was accused of using unfair means to advance his agenda through the Danish voting system and therefore banned until 2022. As such he changed his name to ‘Hard Line’ to get around that ban and has been operating under that name ever since. .
Has there ever been a case where a Quran was burned in public?
Yes. Paludan himself burned the Quran in the past and even suffered repercussions for the same. In August 2019, he organized a demonstration to burn the Islamic holy book, which led to a hundred people protesting against the same.
He was arrested in November 2020 in France for saying he would burn the Koran. He and a few other activists were also banned from Belgium after planning a similar protest in Brussels, home to a large Muslim population.
In fact, Paludan’s ban in Sweden in 2020 came after protests against his demonstrations turned violent with cars burned and shops damaged.
So who is this far-right leader?
Rasmus Paludan, 40, is a Danish lawyer who obtained Swedish citizenship because his father was a resident of the country. He is widely known for his anti-Islamic and racist comments and ideology and has even been banned from practicing law.
Pauldan, who was also a YouTuber, was constantly condemned for his racial slurs and anti-Islamic slurs and sentiments. In 2019, Pauldan burned a bacon-wrapped Quran and was banned from Facebook for a month. He was also imprisoned in 2020 in Denmark for multiple offenses including racism. He was also banned from leaving Germany in 2021 after citing plans to commit anti-Islamic acts in Berlin.
However, although he plans to contest the next Swedish elections scheduled for September this year, he does not have the necessary signature support to qualify as a candidate.
Reactions from around the world
Following the violence and Paludan’s statements, many Islamic countries came forward to condemn the act.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it called Swedish Chargé d’Affaires Hakan Roth in Baghdad on Sunday to inform him of the “government protest”. “This case has serious implications for relations between Sweden and Muslims in general, whether in Islamic and Arab countries or in Muslim societies in Europe,” they said.
Saudi Arabia also issued a statement condemning the act: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expresses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of the willful misuse of the Holy Quran, provocations and incitement against Muslims by some extremists in Sweden. The Kingdom stresses the importance of concerted efforts to spread the values of dialogue, tolerance, coexistence, to renounce hatred, extremism and exclusion, and to prevent abuses of all religions and holy places.
Newsletter | Click to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has said she will ensure those responsible for the attacks are caught. She added that she did not endorse Paludan’s views or activities, but also said it was “unacceptable, irresponsible and illegal” to respond to them with violence.
Organizations like the Muslim World League also reacted to Paludan’s act saying: “The Muslim World League condemns the senseless and shameful act committed by some extremists in Sweden – who misused a copy of the Noble Quran and incited Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. The spread of such religious hatred only fosters hostility and division in societies, harms common humanitarian values of decency and mutual respect, and ultimately only serves the programs of extremism and counter-extremism… These acts are designed to divide, but we have complete faith in the strength of Swedish values of unity and moderation to overcome these divisions and hatred.
Other countries that condemned the incident were Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Qatar, while organizations reportedly include Islamic Cooperation, the Arab Parliament and the Arab League.