Over the Easter weekend, there were several riots in different parts of Sweden in which participants violently attacked the police and other emergency services. Screaming, trashing, burning, destroying, threatening and killing.
The riots were in response to anti-Islam events organised by radical, far-right Danish party Stram Kurs (Hard Line). The leader Rasmus Paladan, who is half Swedish, had been given permission to hold public rallies and burn the Qur’an.
While it is not illegal in Sweden to burn a religious scripture of any denomination, it is a clear and fully-intended provocation, leading to public outcry and reaction.
Let me be clear – I in no way condone the criminal actions of the rioters. They need to be identified, and prosecuted. I also do not condone the burning of the Qur’an. It is a senseless and racist affront intended only to aggravate.
The whole situation has put Swedish politicians in a pickle. Like most democratic countries, the concept of freedom of speech is central. Everybody has the right to say what they think, even if it is heinous. As a democracy, we have to accept it. We meet our combatants in debate and not in violent action.
So, the question becomes is burning the Islamic scripture an expression of this democratic right? Or is it incitement of hate, which is illegal in Sweden?
The politicians have skilfully dodged the question and passed it on to the police, to whom Rasmus Paladan has applied for permission to continue his tour of Sweden, despite ongoing public unrest.
It will be interesting to see what happens next in this historical moment in Swedish history.