Shuddhashar FreeVoice is deeply worried about the long-term implications and consequences if Denmark illegalizes the burning of the Qur’an because of outside pressure. While we consider the burning or banning of any book to be abhorrent and anti-democratic, we also strongly support freedom of expression and freedom to critique religious norms, practices, and all political systems. Free access to books and freedom to critique are essential to a healthy democracy. As humanists and rationalists, we cannot support book burning or violence in the name of religion or nationalism.
Without a doubt, the Qur’an burnings are intended to provoke, and successfully achieved that aim. With the actions of a few Danish and Swedish citizens, the threat of terrorism in their countries has multiplied. These few Danes and Swedes have chosen to act in ways that endanger the lives of potentially numerous innocent citizens at home and abroad. It is understandable that Denmark wants to protect citizens from violence with a law to prevent potential harm. The government has a responsibility to address this danger. However, the proposed law is a capitulation to outside forces rather than attending to the national needs and climate within Denmark. This recent rash of Qur’an burnings is inspired by hate, and that is a point that needs to be explored and addressed by the government and citizens alike.
Instituting a blasphemy law in response to the actions of a few troubled and most likely hateful but law-abiding individuals is problematic and dangerous. Reversing laws that protect freedom of expression sends a terribly wrong message to the international and national communities. Nordic countries, with some of the most egalitarian and democratic systems, have been beacons of freedom throughout the world. What message does a new blasphemy law convey to its regional citizens? What message does this send to Islamic countries?
Shuddhashar FreeVoice has a personal history with blasphemy laws and has witnessed how those laws can be abused and utilized to shore up power while squashing dissent. In many countries, blasphemy laws are used to terrorize and censor. We are deeply concerned about the revival of such laws, especially after long struggles to gain the right to express criticism and dissent.
However, in the Danish or Swedish case, the burning of Qur’ans is intended to terrorize and censor. They are not simply critiquing religious practices, norms, taboos, or the influence of religion on politics. It is imminently clear through the propaganda of sacred-book-burners that many of them intend to antagonize and expel Muslims from Nordic lands. This fact makes the issue more complex since the burning is not a critique of religious practices or its role in politics but the indiscriminate hatred of a religion and all its followers.
Denmark, like other Nordic and European countries, is an increasingly diverse, multicultural country. These abhorrent acts of Qur’an burning point to a deeper problem – ones that cannot be simply addressed with a blasphemy law. Nordic countries are home to a few agitators, but they are also home to many, many more Danish Muslims, Swedish Muslim, and Norwegian Muslims who see themselves as citizens that value freedom of expression and many other Nordic cultural and political norms. The problem isn’t Qur’an burning. The problem is not recognizing this as an act of hatred against a marginalized group. This problem proliferates when society – the government and citizens – does not condemn hatred against marginalized peoples.
Instead of responding to the reckless self-serving acts of a few individuals and the resulting demands of outside countries by instituting a blasphemy law, Nordic countries need to address the humanistic education and needs of people within their countries.
Nordic countries like Denmark have a problem to deal with, but it’s not Qur’an burning. The problem is the fear, ignorance, and hatred of Muslims that has been allowed to grow, and the lack of societal openness, integration, and employment possibilities for migrants and children of migrants.
When a society’s humanistic impulses are strong, there is no need for blasphemy laws. Denmark needs to uphold and strengthen those humanistic and democratic values. This moment calls for a critical self-examination among Nordic people, and a genuine willingness to address the real problems facing their society. Those problems will take longer to address, but they will create a stronger society that will be a beacon for equality, freedom, respect, and humanism.