In Stockholm, Sweden, a recent survey conducted on behalf of Swedish national television broadcaster SVT reveals that a majority of Swedish people now support a ban on the public burning of religious texts, including the Quran or the Bible. This marks a significant shift in public opinion following an incident where a man set fire to the Quran, Islam’s holiest book, in front of a mosque last week.
According to the survey conducted by Kantar Public, 53 percent of respondents believe that burning holy scriptures of any religion in public should be prohibited, while 34 percent believe it should be allowed, and 13 percent remain undecided. This represents an 11 percent increase in the number of people favouring a ban since February when the same question was asked in a survey by TV4, a Swedish Television network.
The release of the survey coincides with widespread protests faced by Sweden after the Quran burning incident, attracting condemnation from various governments, particularly in Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan’s prime minister called for nationwide protests, and the Pope expressed anger and disgust over the burning. The United Nations is expected to address the incident in an upcoming meeting.
Toivo Sjoren, head of opinion at Kantar Public, suggested that the global reaction to the Quran burnings may have influenced the change in public opinion.
These burnings have also had consequences for Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Turkey, in particular, has opposed Sweden’s membership, citing the Quran burnings as a reason. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised Sweden and stated that insulting the sacred values of Muslims is not an expression of freedom of speech.
While the police have already denied permission for two Quran burnings in 2023, the Court of Appeals later overturned these decisions. The Swedish government has condemned the Quran burning as an “Islamophobic” act, following calls from the Organisation of Islamic Countries for measures to prevent further desecration of the Muslim holy book.
However, it is important to note that Sweden’s constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression, and demonstration makes it challenging to enforce a complete ban on desecrating holy scriptures. Currently, Sweden can restrict what can be said and where the burnings can occur under laws on incitement against ethnic groups. Reintroducing a law that would enable a complete ban would require revisiting legislation that was scrapped in the 1970s.
Recently, SVT revealed that three new applications to burn religious scriptures have been submitted to the police. One woman in her 50s requested permission to burn the Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm, while a man in his 30s requested permission to burn the Torah and the Bible in front of the Israeli embassy on July 15. The man stated that this act would be a response to the Quran burning incident and a symbolic gathering in support of freedom of speech.