Denmark has been at the forefront of the current wave of attacks on the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Over the past few months, far-right groups in Denmark and neighboring Sweden have been involved in desecrating and burning several copies of the Quran. These actions have sparked strong condemnation from Muslims globally and calls for measures to prevent such acts from occurring in the future.
A diplomatic crisis could also be in the offing as the ultranationalist group Danske Patrioter, or Danish Patriots, has been carrying out its acts in front of the Turkish, Iraqi, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Iranian embassies under Danish police protection.
Faced with that possibility, the Danish government has come out with statements trying to distance itself from the incidents, and also hinting at possible legal changes to prevent them.
The government said it was open to exploring legal means to intervene in special situations where other countries, cultures and religions are demeaned, to prevent consequences that risk Denmark’s international standing and threaten its national security.
Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said the “burnings are deeply offensive and reckless acts committed by few individuals … (who) do not represent the values the Danish society is built on.”
He said Denmark was “exploring the possibility of intervening in special situations,” but only “within the framework of the constitutionally protected freedom of expression.”
In comments to a local newspaper this week, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said measures to ban the desecration of holy books such as the Quran would not restrict freedom of expression in the country.
Everyone ‘has their own boundary’
The path to those changes, however, remains littered with hurdles – both political and societal.
At least seven parties have come out to oppose steps that they contend would impinge on freedoms of speech and expression.
The parties include forces from both sides of the Danish political spectrum, ranging from the far-right Nye Borgerlige to the far-left Red-Green Alliance.
In a joint statement, they vowed to fight for “fundamental Danish civil liberties,” asserting that these freedoms should always be more important than “religious dogmas,” according to local media reports.
For Denmark’s Muslim community leaders, the expression of intent from the government is a welcome step, but nowhere near enough to address what they say is a much larger problem in Danish society.
“Danish Muslims are used to these Quran burnings … In fact, this whole phenomenon started from Denmark,” said Urfan Zahoor, spokesperson for the Danish Muslim Union (DMU), the largest umbrella group for Muslim associations and mosques in the country.
“For years, we have been trying to convince politicians that these acts shouldn’t be a part of democratic society, but somehow we didn’t succeed.”
On the argument over freedom of expression, he asserted that every society and country “has their own boundary.”
“Some don’t want to talk about the king or the queen, or allow Holocaust denials, or the burning of flags of foreign countries,” he said in a video interview with Anadolu.
“Every country decides for themselves what is good for their society. We want to convince people that the Danish society we are a part of should develop into one where no minority groups are targeted.”
‘Muslims want a long-lasting solution’
An estimated 5% of Denmark’s population of some 6 million is Muslim, but the country ranks among the most vulnerable for Muslims, along with France and Austria, according to the European Islamophobia Report 2022.
From discriminatory legislation to actual acts of aggression and violence, the Muslim community in Denmark has repeatedly raised concerns over a growing wave of Islamophobia in the country.
With the latest furor over the attacks on the Quran, community leaders are hoping for more systematic change, rather than cosmetic measures focusing on a singular area.
Asif Manzoor Khan, a senior scientist at Aarhus University and a prominent figure in the Danish Muslim community, said government interventions to stop Quran burnings would not be enough to address the larger issue of Islamophobia.
“This is not the first time that these incidents are happening. These things were happening, but the government was silent. At least they have come forward now,” he told Anadolu.
He stressed that the Muslim community gives full respect to the Danish state, government and people, and expects that to be reciprocated.
“There should be the same respect toward the Muslim community that lives in this country, and for whom the Quran is the supreme book,” he added.
Zahoor, the DMU official, said Denmark’s Muslims are not looking for “any surgical strikes,” referring to the idea of just banning attacks on holy books.
“We don’t want to find a loophole in the existing laws. We want to look further, to be proactive, try to find a wider solution, and not just because of the international pressure that has built up,” he said.
The community has mixed feelings about the growing diplomatic pressure on Denmark and the way that is forcing the government’s hand, he said.
“We want the change to come from within, and we want it to be long-lasting,” said Zahoor.
Measures like banning the burning of holy books near diplomatic buildings “will be very much short-sighted,” he continued, urging the government to explore ways to stop acts that are “demeaning” for members of Danish society.
“We want broader measures that aim for a long-lasting solution,” he reiterated.