Opinion | Why Is the Far Right Obsessed With Burning the Koran?

Published on 24 Jan 2023

This op-ed by Bridge Initiative Senior Researcher Farid Hafez originally appeared in Haaretz

Far-right leader Rasmus Paludan is a serial Koran-burner. In 2019, he staged public burnings of the Muslim holy book in several locations across Sweden, sparking riots in several cities, with dozens of arrests, injuries and damage to property. And he’s doing it again, this time setting fire to a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, which triggered both local and international outrage.

Last time around, mainstream politicians expressed their disapproval, while navigating Sweden’s generous protections of freedom of speech. Members of the Jewish community called for legal action, recalling the Nazi policy of burning books by “banned” (often Jewish) authors, a prelude to the Holocaust. Said one: “Burning holy books like the Koran – or the Torah for that matter – is a hate crime.”

But Sweden’s political context is different, now: The ruling coalition depends on the support of a highly xenophobic, anti-Muslim far-right party, with roots in Nazism, and Sweden is locked in a geopolitical drama with Turkey over NATO membership. The vicious act of burning the Muslim holy scriptures, which for the far right is a clear symbolic statement of intentions regarding Sweden’s Muslims, is now seen as a distraction rather than a toxic hate crime.

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