Denmark Set to Ban Burning of Qur’an Amid Islamist Protests in Middle East

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - MAY 14: Rasmus Paludan burns a Koran during an election meeting in Hus
Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images

In a capitulation in the battle for freedom of speech, the Kingdom of Denmark is set to introduce legislation prohibiting the burning of the Qur’an in front of embassies within the country.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has announced that the neo-liberal Nordic government will impose restrictions on the burning of the Islamic holy book, although how and when such legislation will be implemented remains to be seen.

The announcement in itself, Rasmussen said, was therefore more of an overture to the Muslim world in the hopes of preventing any violent reprisals in Denmark or its overseas outposts.

“The fact that we are signalling to the world that we are working on it will hopefully contribute to the problems not escalating,” the foreign minister said per Danish public broadcaster DR.

Rasmussen argued that the move should not be seen as such a grave threat to free speech, given that Denmark already has some “limits” on speech, such as prohibitions on racist speech. Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard, meanwhile, attempted to differentiate the ban on burning Qur’ans outside embassies as somehow distinct from a reimposition of blasphemy laws, which were only officially abolished in the country in 2017.

“We have not finished mapping out what the legal options are. It is only when we have done it that we also take a political position on it,” said Hummelgaard, “But we have said very clearly that we do not intend to reintroduce the blasphemy clause, and that will be the very broad way to go. In other words, [not] going back to the legal situation from 2017.”

The move comes after a spate of sometimes violent protests throughout the Middle East in response to Qur’an burnings in Denmark and Sweden, with the Swedish embassy in Iraq even being stormed by Islamist protesters last month.

Like Denmark, Sweden is also considering introducing legislation to limit the act, with the political leadership hinting at a ban in order to dampen anger in Ankara and to gain the support of Turkey in its bid to join the NATO military alliance. Sweden too historically had blasphemy laws on the books in centuries passed but abolished them as civilisation progressed.

Responding to the proposed ban in Denmark, Danish activist and leader of the Stram Kurs (Hard Line) party, Rasmus Paludan said: “You cannot demand that I submit to rules that apply to a religion I am not a part of.”

Paludan, who has publicly burned the Qur’an at protests on multiple occasions in both Denmark and Sweden, including outside the British and Turkish embassies, said that it was not his intention to incite anger internationally but rather to protect the Danish way of life.

“You have to remember that in Denmark Danish rules apply. We can be offended and angry at all sorts of things that all sorts of people do in their home countries,” he said.

Paludan’s Qur’an burning has seen violence abroad, with riots previously breaking out across Sweden after he set the book on fire in Stockholm, but also major unrest in the Islamic world.

It was not only Paludan that criticised the planned ban, with the leader of the eco-socialist Enhedslisten (Red–Green Alliance) party, Mai Villadsen writing on social media that while she did not approve of Paludan or his actions Denmark “must not change our legislation because some despotic regimes – which do not even have the remotest respect for even the most basic human rights – threaten the export interests of business.”

“For example, it must be possible to display a flag at a demonstration, even if it offends the Chinese regime or the Chinese president. Foolish and divisive statements must be fought with arguments and solidarity. Not with legislation that restricts freedom of expression.

“I am deeply concerned about the slippery slope this could lead to.”

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