Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led a chorus of criticism from the Muslim world aimed at Sweden on Thursday, a day after an Iraqi man burned pages of a Quran outside a Stockholm mosque.
Erdogan said in televised remarks that he condemnded Wednesday’s incident in Stockholm.
“We will eventually teach the arrogant Westerners that insulting Muslims is not freedom of thought,” Erdogan said, paying little heed to the protester’s own non-Western identity.
“We will show our reaction in the strongest possible terms, until a determined victory against terrorist organizations and Islamophobia is achieved.”
Erdogan’s comments seemed to hint at him looking to use the incident to continue to stifle Sweden’s bid to join NATO, submitted in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More talks between the two sides are scheduled for next week.
Erdogan accuses Sweden of harboring what he calls “terrorists,” usually either Kurdish activists or supporters of a former ally turned rival of Erdogan’s, Fethullah Gulen. The president has also criticized comparable past demonstrations in Sweden that he deemed to be either anti-Turkey or anti-Islam or both.
Although the protest’s impact on Erdogan and his government might be the most pressing concern for Stockholm, given its current political efforts, Turkey’s criticism was just one voice among many from the Islamic world on Thursday.
Chorus of criticism, ambassadors summoned
A host of Islamic governments voiced their disapproval of the action, while in Iraq, protesters tried to breach the Swedish Embassy building in Baghdad.
This followed Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr calling for a demonstration outside the embassy seeking the ambassador’s removal, charging that Sweden was “hostile to Islam.”
The US Census Bureau put Sweden’s Muslim population at 8.1% in 2022. Swedish government figures are often lower as they only count those who are registered with a mosque and regularly attend.
The country also hosts many people from Islamic countries who have since renounced their faith, like Wednesday’s protester, many of whom do not feel safe in their homelands after doing so.
The United Arab Emirates and Jordan summoned Sweden’s ambassador on Thursday, as Morocco had late on Wednesday.
Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Arab League, Egypt, and Kuwait all issued criticial comments.
The government in Baghdad said such actions “inflame the feelings of Muslims around the world and represent a dangerous provocation for them.”
Iran called the demo “provocative, ill-considered and unacceptable,” while saying it was Sweden’s obligation to prevent “the repetition of insulting holy sanctities.”
Saudi Arabia noted how the act coincided with the Eid al-Adha religious festival and the end of the Hajj pilgrimage: “These hateful and repeated acts cannot be accepted with any justification,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said.
Swedish PM: Protest was legal but not ‘appropriate’
Sweden rarely bans protests, even ones that might be deemed incitement in other countries, and a court approved the demonstration on Wednesday. However, after it, police said they would investigate potential “agitation” that might have been committed amid the protest by an Iraqi refugee who would like the book banned.
Sweden’s prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, said at a press conference that the decision on whether the protest should go ahead had not been his to make.
“It is legal but not appropriate,” Kristersson said of the protest, saying such individual decisions rested with Swedish law enforcement, not politicians.
Representatives of the mosque outside which the protest took place had said on Wednesday that they were disappointed police permitted the protest. They had suggested police could at least divert the demonstration to a less sensitive location — one step that could have been within their powers.
The protest was watched by a crowd of people, including supporters and counterprotesters; police cordoned the protester off from the crowd, apparently for his own protection.
In January, a similar protest took place in Sweden conducted by the leader of a Danish far-right political party who set light to a copy of the Quran after a long diatribe about Muslim migration into Sweden. This also prompted stern criticism from Turkey and other countries.
NATO has appealed to Turkey, however, to consider that its stance on Sweden joining NATO might be contributing to protests in Sweden which Ankara and Erdogan then find objectionable.
Kristersson said at Thursday’s EU leaders’ summit that he would hold talks with the other NATO holdout, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Hungary’s government on Thursday confirmed that it would delay a parliamentary vote on ratifying Swedish NATO membership by another week, but said the decision was unrelated to Turkey’s renewed displeasure — a claim disputed by the opposition in Budapest.
msh/nm (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)