Quran burnings point to broader anti-immigrant bias: former UN Rapporteur
A surge in Quran burnings by far-right extremists triggers concern over anti-immigrant sentiment and freedom of expression, with a former UN special rapporteur calling it ‘an assertion of a broader anti-immigrant, anti-non-European right-wing bias’.
A recent wave of the desecrating of the Quran, Islam’s holiest book in Sweden and Denmark is “an assertion of a broader anti-immigrant, anti-non-European right-wing bias that has grown to be quite politically strong,” according to a former UN special rapporteur.
“There’s no legitimate purpose by allowing groups to burn the holy scriptures of another religious faith,” Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, said in a video interview.
“It seems to me to serve…no possible constructive purpose. And I think there is a strong case for (such acts to be) prohibited.”
In recent months, far-right extremist groups have desecrated and burnt several copies of the Quran in Denmark and neighboring Sweden, drawing fierce condemnation from Muslims around the world and calls for measures to stop such acts.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on July 25 that terms all acts of violence against holy books a violation of international law.
‘Is it hate speech?’
About the line between freedom of expression and actions that may be considered offensive to religious beliefs, Falk said they could fall under the umbrella of “free speech” but could be linked to a “formation of violent behaviour” in some cases.
On the question of limits to freedom of speech in cases where, for instance, it threatens security, he said: “Yes, it could be (limited) in certain contexts if it could be argued to be a threat to security”.
He said various European countries “have a less permissive view (than the US) of freedom of speech and are more concerned with prohibition of hate crime”.
“Therefore, this kind of act could be prohibited under the broad prohibition against hate speech, which exists, I know, in the UK and Germany, for instance,” he said, adding that the same may not be the case under Scandinavian laws.
Quran burnings could be “alleged to be hate speech,” said Falk, but it also depends on the precedent within a particular country or region.
Falk said that countries could pass laws to prevent attacks on holy books, emphasising that they “would have considerable international support at this point.”
“Because there is a recent UN resolution … that does say it’s contrary to international law, to burn or otherwise destroy,” he said.
Threat of violence
Muslims around the world are concerned that these increasing attacks on the Quran could lead to more violence against the community itself.
With book burnings having been one of the main Nazi campaigns in the lead-up to the Holocaust, Falk warned that “democratic societies have to be vigilant against the repetition of this kind of genocidal behaviour because it obviously can be repeated.”
“It has, to a certain extent, been repeated recently in Myanmar, where the Muslim minority … was subjected to what many observers have defined as genocidal,” he said, referring to the plight of the Rohingya community.