This op-ed by Bridge Initiative Associate Director Mobashra Tazamal originally appeared in The Middle East Eye.
This is how it generally follows: some far-right figure looking to garner attention and cause controversy carries out a spectacle (i.e. burning the Quran) aimed at generating controversy and antagonising billions of Muslims around the globe.
When Muslims call attention to the act, rightly describing it as hate speech, the said far-right individual, with backing from authorities, immediately pulls out the freedom of expression card.
That’s exactly what happened this past weekend when Danish-Swedish far-right politician, Rasmus Paludan, carried out the vile act of burning the Quran, the holy book for Muslims who believe it to be the word of God.
Just days after this stunt, another far-right European politician took part in a similar scene. Dutch politician Edwin Wagensveld, the head of the far-right movement, PEGIDA, tore pages out of the holy book before setting them on fire.
It’s no coincidence that Paludan, who has previously been found guilty of racism, and other far-right figures choose the Quran as a target of their hate. They are very well aware of the weight the holy book carries in the lives and identities of billions of Muslims, so the decision to burn the Quran is a calculated one.
Paludan has a documented history of racist and Islamophobic rhetoric, as well as engaging in sexually explicit conversations with minors. The repeat offender has called for the banning and expulsion of Muslims and has described Islam as an “evil and primitive religion”.
The Extremist Monitoring Analysis Network reports that the far-right politician has previously called the Quran “the great whore book” and “urged followers to urinate on it”.
Given these very clear anti-Muslim views, Paludan’s decision (time and time again) to burn the Quran is driven by Islamophobic hate. The far-right figure didn’t carry out this act to express his right to free expression, he initiated the Quran burning because he sought to attack Muslims.