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The recent enactment of a legislation by the Danish parliament, which prohibits the burning of the Quran, has not resolved the ongoing debate surrounding freedom of speech in the country.
Following incidents of Quran burnings by nationalist groups in Denmark and Sweden, legislation has been proposed in response. These burnings were widely shared on social media, resulting in backlash from Muslim nations and an attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. The burnings have been cited as a contributing factor in Turkey’s delay in ratifying Sweden’s membership to Nato. Although the governments of Denmark and Sweden have denounced the burnings, they were unable to take legal action.
The level of terror threat has been elevated in both Nordic nations. In October, Sweden was also taken aback by the shooting of two individuals in Brussels. According to Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, the shooter had deliberately targeted Swedish football fans who were in town for an international match.
The recently passed legislation, awaiting the signature of Danish monarch Queen Margrethe, safeguards all sacred texts from disrespect in the nation. Peter Hummelgaard, Denmark’s minister of justice, has emphasized the importance of this action, stating, “It is imperative that we defend both Denmark and its people.”
Since July, there have been more than 500 reported demonstrations “with the burning of Qurans or flags,” Mr Hummelgaard said
The government of Sweden has promised to maintain its laws protecting freedom of expression despite external pressure, but is exploring the possibility of enacting legislation regarding the burning of the Quran.
The Danish coalition government, led by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of the Social Democratic party, has successfully passed a law that criminalizes the desecration of sacred texts, carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison.
However, the repercussions are expected to continue. The opposition parties on both sides of the coalition government are expressing notable frustration.
Karina Lorentzen, spokesperson for the center-left SF Party, stated that instead of resisting, we give in.
“I never imagined that my generation would face restrictions on freedom of speech. The actions taken in parliament are disgraceful,” stated Inger Støjberg, head of the far-right, anti-immigration party Denmark Democrats, in an interview with The Independent.
Inger Støjberg states, “It is disheartening to see democracies shrinking and losing power in our current era… This serves as an unfortunate illustration of how effortlessly the Danish government can be manipulated.”
According to the Danish government, the recently passed laws will not greatly affect freedom of expression. They state that there should still be space for criticizing religion and that there are no intentions to bring back a previously abolished law against blasphemy from 2017.
According to the BT newspaper, Oussama Elsaadi, who serves as an imam at a mosque in Aarhus, the second-largest city in Denmark, believes this is a positive message for all Muslims.
He stated that setting fire to the Quran is a violation against others. While you are free to express yourself, it should not result in harming others.
In 2006, Denmark faced criticism from the Muslim community when a Danish newspaper published 12 cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. The Danish prime minister at the time, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, stated: “I would like to stress that in Denmark, we value the freedom of expression as a crucial and essential aspect of a democratic society.”
With that being stated, I would like to emphasize my personal belief that I hold great regard for the religious sentiments of others,” he stated. The situation reached its peak with assaults on Danish embassies and a refusal to purchase Danish products.
The Danish government has opted for a practical solution this time. The recently proposed law has been the subject of heated discussion for several months. In the end, it was narrowly approved by Parliament with 94 votes in favor and 77 against. The law regarding the Quran has caused a divide among the Danish people. Some members of the opposing party urged for a national referendum, but their request was denied.
The initial proposal put forth in August was revised due to concerns that it was too broad. The revised legislation now prohibits the burning, soiling, trampling, and cutting of officially recognized religious texts. However, these actions may not be considered illegal if they are part of a work of art.
In October, Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard stated in Parliament that the deciding factor will be whether an action is deemed offensive by society as a whole. For instance, while it may be considered illegal to wrap a religious text in bacon, wrapping it in a rainbow flag would not be.
Opponents of the legislation, including the uncompromising Denmark Democrats, will likely continue to prolong the discussion on freedom of speech.
Ms Støjberg expressed concern about the government’s belief that those who seek to alter freedom of speech laws will be satisfied with just one change. She questions what will happen when they inevitably return with more demands.