Right-wing hatemongers in Europe and elsewhere are attempting to normalise this violenceby attacking Islamic symbols
Pakistan strongly condemned the heinous act of desecration of a Holy Quran copy in the Netherlands. A day after Sweden’s far-right politician Rasmus Paludan committed a similar act in Stockholm, Edwin Wagensveld, who heads the Dutch chapter of a German anti-Islam group, tore pages from the holy book in The Hague during a one-man protest. “It is undeniably a provocative Islamophobic hate crime committed under the guise of freedom of expression,” said an Islamabad-based Foreign Office spokesperson. Such offensive acts deeply hurt the feelings of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims and can cause discord in the international community.
Repeated acts of Islamophobia in Europe in recent days have vividly demonstrated the
continent’s serious problem, as anti-Muslim hatemongers insult the symbols and figures held dear by over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Rasmus Paludan, a provocative far-right figure with a history of spewing anti-Muslim hatred, committed the latest atrocity outside a mosque in Denmark on Friday. This individual burned a copy of the Holy Quran, a heinous act he had previously committed outside the Turkish embassy in Sweden. In another recent incident, a member of the Dutch chapter of Pegida, a German neofascist organisation, desecrated the Holy Book. Meanwhile, for Paludan, the ‘justification’ for the outrage was Turkey’s objections to Sweden and Finland’s Nato membership. The true intentions, however, appear to be to insult Islam and its sacred symbols. As the blasphemous caricatures and Charlie Hebdo episodes show, this is not the first time Islamic symbols have been targeted in a hateful way in Europe.
While most European leaders and members of civil society condemn the acts, the principle of free speech prevents them from taking action against the perpetrators. This is an untenable position. To begin with, Europe has a long history of anti-Islamic sentiment. Much of European literature during the middle Ages, for example, contained grotesquely Islamophobic content. In the modern world, it appears that Christian Europe’s prejudices have clearly seeped into secular Europe. Furthermore, as the Holocaust-denial laws demonstrate, Europeans have demonstrated that free speech is not absolute. If raising questions about a historical event can result in fines
and prison terms on the continent, then those who attack Islamic religious symbols, and indeed all religious symbols, must face consequences. Extremists also seek to legitimise violence and hate crimes against Muslims by attacking Islamic symbols.In contrast to the dubious European approach, some in the West are attempting to build bridges.
The Canadian government, for example, has recently appointed its first adviser to combat Islamophobia. The positive step demonstrates that Islamophobia is a violent reality that millions of Muslims around the world face. Right-wing hatemongers in Europe and elsewhere are attempting to normalise this violence by attacking Islamic symbols. In Europe, there should be a serious debate about Islamophobic hate crimes, such as the Quran-burning stunts, and legal action should be taken to prevent future such atrocities. It is also true that these heinous acts embolden Muslim extremists and terrorist organisations. Instead of shielding these mediaeval prejudices under the guise of free speech, Europe must combat rampant Islamophobia.