Five Questions on Europe Quran Burnings

October 3, 2023

In Episode 8 of “Unpacking Islamophobia,” our guest is Dr. Farid Hafez, an Austrian academic who currently serves as a distinguished visiting Professor of International Studies at Williams College in Massachusetts and is co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report, a collaborative work with 40 scholars covering more than 30 European countries.

Dr. Hafez, who is also a Senior Research Fellow at The Bridge Initiative, provides historical context on the recent trend of Quran burnings across Europe, especially Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Denmark. He begins by noting the rise of “not-so-popular far-right activists” on the fringe who are trying to provoke social unrest with Quran burning publicity stunts. He notes that Danish-Swedish far-right politician Rasmus Paludan was the first prominent Scandinavian to conduct a series of “public Quran burnings” across Sweden in 2019 and most recently in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Dr. Hafez states that Paludan failed as a politician in Denmark (receiving only 1.8% of the national vote as a far-right candidate), so he turned his political sights on neighboring Sweden. Although these far-right activists claim they are defenders of “free speech” which is a touchstone of modern societies, Dr. Hafez contends that these Quran burnings are “not about human rights and liberty, it’s very much drawing on the far-right ideology of the so-called New Right which basically wants to restore the perceived ethnic homogeneity of white Nordic populations.”

Dr. Hafez also expands on the geopolitical implications of these Quran burnings, and how they’ve impacted relationships between Sweden and Turkey, specifically regarding Sweden’s application for membership to NATO. 

Dr. Hafez concludes by echoing the words of 18th century German poet Heinrich Heine who once said that those who burn books will in the end burn people. He further states that Quran burnings should be considered acts of “violent inclusion” towards minority communities, which could further alienate European Muslims for generations to come.



Dr. Farid Hafez is a distinguished visiting Professor of International Studies at Williams College in Massachusetts. Originally from Austria, Professor Hafez has also been a Fulbright Visiting Professor at University of California, Berkeley and in 2014, a Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in New York City. He is the founding editor of the German-English Islamophobia Studies Yearbook (since 2010) and co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report (since 2015), a collaborative work with 40 scholars covering more than 30 European countries and regularly appears in global media outlets around the world.

Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Researcher for the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington DC. Arsalan is a prominent human rights lawyer, an internationally recognized researcher on the topic of Islamophobia, and a global media commentator. He is the author of several books including FEAR OF A MUSLIM PLANET: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order and Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms which President Jimmy Carter called “an important book that shows Islamophobia must be addressed urgently”. Throughout his career, Arsalan has been a regular on-air commentator for National Public Radio (NPR) and his interviews have appeared on prominent global media outlets like CNN, Al-Jazeera English, BBC World News, The Economist, New York Times, Rolling Stone, NBC News “Meet The Press” & many more. A native of Chicago, Arsalan was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees.