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Denmark, Sweden seek ways to prevent burnings of Quran or other religious scriptures

HELSINKI (AP) — Denmark’s foreign minister said Sunday the government will seek to make it illegal to desecrate the Quran or other religious holy books in front of foreign embassies in the Nordic country.

Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said in an interview with the Danish public broadcaster DR that the burning of holy scriptures “only serves the purpose of creating division in a world that actually needs unity.”

“That is why we have decided in the government that we will look at how, in very special situations, we can put an end to mockery of other countries, which is in direct conflict with Danish interests and the safety of the Danes,” he said.

A recent string of public Quran desecrations by a handful of anti-Islam activists in Denmark and neighboring Sweden have sparked angry demonstrations in Muslim countries.

Løkke Rasmussen said the Cabinet of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is determined to find “a legal tool” to prohibit such acts without compromising freedom of expression, but he acknowledged that would not be easy.

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“There must be room for religious criticism, and we have no thoughts of reintroducing a blasphemy clause,” he told DR. “But when you stand up in front of a foreign embassy and burn a Quran or burn the Torah scroll in front of the Israeli embassy, it serves no other purpose than to mock.”

But, it added, the desecration of the Muslim holy book in Denmark has resulted in the nation being viewed in many places around the world “as a country that facilitates insult and denigration of the cultures, religions, and traditions of other countries.”

Protesters gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, carrying Iraqi flags and images of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric and political leader Muqtada al-Sadr, July 22, 2023, following reports of the burning of a Quran carried out by a ultranationalist group in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Copenhagen. (AP Photo/Ali Jabar)

The government repeated its condemnation of such desecrations, say they are “deeply offensive and reckless acts committed by few individuals” and “do not represent the values the Danish society is built on.”

In Sweden, Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said Sunday on Instagram that his government is analyzing the legal situation regarding desecration of the Quran and other holy books, given the animosity such acts are stirring up against Sweden.

“We are in the most serious security policy situation since the Second World War,” Kristersson said.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called an emergency remote meeting Monday to discuss the Quran burnings in Sweden and Denmark.

Sweden has said that while it does not approve of the actions, it holds freedom of expression and protest as sacrosanct.

On Friday, a Swedish woman who received permission from local authorities to burn a Torah book outside Israel’s embassy in Stockholm aborted the act, burning a blank piece of paper instead and declaring that it was a “symbol of the Swedish system that is empty of content.”

When she submitted a request to Stockholm police to hold her protest, the woman had said it was about the “systematic violation of children’s rights in Sweden.” It was unclear why she had chosen to make a Torah book the prop in her protest.

It was the second planned Torah book burning in recent weeks that was canceled at the last minute.

A previous plan earlier this month was approved by authorities, and also drew condemnation from Israel and European Jewry.

However, the activist behind the stunt did not go through with it, telling gathered reporters on the day that it had never been his intention to burn Jewish or Christian holy books, only to protest the recent burning of the Quran.

According to a Kan report, earlier this month, senior Swedish officials told their Israeli counterparts they were working to outlaw the burning of religious texts but stressed any such change would take time to implement.

In June, Swedish police allowed a Quran burning in front of a mosque in Stockholm to go ahead, citing freedom of speech after a court overturned a ban on Quran burning.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.