The Swedish government has granted permission for a public gathering outside the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm where Torahs and Bibles, the holy books of Jews and Christians respectively, will be burned. The decision has sparked widespread condemnation and outrage from various quarters.
The approval for the protest was reported by Sveriges Radio, a Swedish national radio broadcaster, on Friday. The gathering is scheduled to take place on Saturday. The European Jewish Congress (EJC) was quick to express its strong condemnation of the Swedish government’s decision. EJC President Ariel Muzicant described the act as “provocative, racist, antisemitic, and sickening,” asserting that such actions have no place in a civilized society. Muzicant emphasized that disrespecting the religious and cultural sensitivities of people sends a clear message of unwelcome and disrespect towards minorities. He called on any democratic government worthy of its name to prevent such disgraceful acts.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog also expressed his unequivocal condemnation of the Swedish authorities’ decision. In a tweet, he stated his heartbreak over the burning of holy books and highlighted the parallel with the burning of the Quran, an act he had previously condemned as President of Israel. Herzog referred to the Bible as the eternal book of the Jewish people and stressed the need to protect it from such desecration.
The controversy arises after a recent incident in which a man desecrated a copy of the Holy Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm, leading to tense demonstrations at the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. At the time, Swedish police justified their decision to allow the Quran burning, citing the right to free speech. The police permit stated that the security risks associated with a Quran burning did not meet the legal criteria for rejecting the application for a public gathering.
The permit also acknowledged that Quran burnings carry an increased risk of terrorist attacks and may have foreign policy consequences. However, it was clarified that security concerns must be directly connected to the planned gathering or its immediate surroundings to warrant a decision to refuse a public assembly.
The Swedish government’s decision to permit the burning of holy books has ignited a fierce debate about the limits of free speech and the responsibility of governments to protect religious and cultural symbols. Critics argue that while free speech is important, it should not extend to actions that incite hatred, discrimination, or disrespect towards religious communities.
As the backlash continues to intensify, it remains to be seen whether the Swedish government will reconsider its position or face further criticism for allowing such a provocative demonstration. The incident serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between freedom of expression and the need to foster a tolerant and inclusive society.