The burning of the Qur’an in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm has led to tensions between Sweden and Turkey. In response to the individual protest of a far-right Danish agitator, the Turkish government decided on Saturday to cancel the upcoming visit of the Swedish Defense Minister. According to Ankara, Sweden’s decision to allow the “vile” demonstration was “totally unacceptable”. The diplomatic spat, reminiscent of the Danish cartoon affair, comes as Sweden seeks Turkey’s agreement to join NATO.
Ankara intensifies the burning of the Koran because the elections are coming. Conflict with the West is a tried and tested way for President Erdogan to mobilize his nationalist supporters. Before the referendum on the presidential system in 2017, the Netherlands and Germany (‘the remnants of the Nazis’) were tied down. Now it is Sweden.
Angry members of nationalist and religious groups gathered outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul on Saturday night. The Turkish Religious Affairs Department called on worshipers to come to the mosque on Sunday to read the Quran.
Provocative from Denmark
Sweden can forget about joining NATO for now. Continuing anti-Turkish protests hampered the Swedish government’s efforts to improve relations with Turkey. For example, a group of pro-Kurdish Swedish leftists hung an effigy of Erdogan from a gallows outside parliament last week. The Turkish government reacted angrily.
On Saturday, anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan stirred up tensions by setting fire to a Koran in front of the Turkish embassy, surrounded by police, while making insulting remarks about immigrants and Muslims.
Paludan, founder of the Danish anti-immigration party Stram Kors (Hardelen), wants all Muslims expelled from the country. The Danish politician, who has a Swedish father and also a Swedish passport since 2020, is attracting few votes in the election. But as an agitator (who promotes a conspiracy theory of “super-population”) he knows how to attract attention. Last year, violent riots broke out in several Swedish cities after Paludan announced that it would burn the Quran. In clashes with the police, three rioters were shot dead. Muslims view the Qur’an as the sacred word of God and consider any intentional damage or desecration extremely offensive.
Acts of vandalism
Turkey has previously urged the Swedish government to ban the burning of the Koran. But the Swedish government insisted that the demonstration was part of freedom of expression. Part of the Swedes fear that Turkey wants to restrict their basic rights in return for joining NATO. But according to Turkey’s foreign minister, freedom of expression does not cover racism and hate speech.
Turkey said Sweden’s new centre-right coalition government, which is backed by a far-right party, is “more determined” about joining NATO and easier to work with than its predecessor. The Swedish government expressed its condemnation of the protests, describing them as “acts of sabotage” against joining NATO.
But Turkey is not satisfied with that. Ankara loves to provoke, because electoral hooliganism suits Erdogan very well. So it is expected that he will certainly continue to obstruct the elections (May 14).
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