Koran burnings: how far should freedom go?
The conflict over Koran burnings in Sweden has escalated. In protest at an announced burning, angry Muslims stormed and set fire to the Swedish embassy in Baghdad on Thursday, with Iraq expelling the Swedish ambassador. In Stockholm, a demonstrator trampled on a copy of the Koran outside the Iraqi embassy. Commentators call for moderation and reflection.
Place trust in Sweden’s values
Göteborgs-Posten wants democratic values to be defended:
“It is not the embassy building that matters. The most important thing is the people. In the short term, that no harm comes to the embassy staff, and in the longer term that we never give up the fight so that more people can express their ideas and thoughts without fear and live their lives in freedom and in the way they want. We can build a new message. Because just as people’s faith is anchored in their hearts rather than in books, our values about freedom of expression, democracy and an open society are not anchored in bricks and mortar. We are the ones who decide what kind of country Sweden will be.”
Without rules we’re back to might is right
Rather than stubbornly defending an absolute concept of freedom, the Swedes would do better to reflect on what freedom actually is, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung recommends:
“People can criticise yes, but not humilliate. Because in the end a simple logic applies: if the holy scripture of the Muslims is burned or trampled underfoot in Stockholm, it serves no one — except the extremists on both sides who take delight in every new spiral of hatred, violence and counter-violence. No one defends real freedom in this way. This requires rules and responsibility. But if freedom becomes absolute, it ends up being nothing more than the right of the strongest to do things simply because they can.”
Promote understanding on both sides
With their provocations, the populists in Sweden are setting a trap that must be avoided at all costs, La Croix warns:
“It must be stressed that there are rights in Sweden that allow the Koran to be trampled on or burned at public events. But at the same time it is crucial not to pitch believers against each other, and to remember that attacks on the Koran, as on any other sacred scripture, are perceived by many as offensive, disrespectful and provocative. Earlier in July the Pope said he felt ‘angry and disgusted’ by these acts, stating that ‘freedom of expression must never be used as an excuse to despise others’.”
Both firmness and respect needed
For Upsala Nya Tidning, Foreign Minister Tobias Billström has been too conciliatory for far too long:
“Sweden must react more strongly to the attack on the embassy in Baghdad. It is not enough to summon the most senior Iraqi diplomat in Sweden to the Foreign Ministry. We should bring all diplomatic staff home from Iraq, not only for security reasons. But Billström must also show respect and understanding for those whose religion is becoming a political instrument, both in Sweden and in the Muslim world. ... Religious convictions are never an excuse for using violence or exercising power over others. ... Basically, dialogue and trust are the only way forward.”