Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson stated on Thursday that he is “extremely concerned” about the repercussions of additional protests in which the Koran is desecrated, amid mounting Muslim outrage over a string of attacks on Islam’s holy book.
Attacks on the Koran in Sweden and Denmark have enraged numerous Muslim countries, notably Turkey, whose support Sweden requires to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a goal Stockholm has set for itself in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Kristersson told Swedish news agency TT that further requests had been filed with police for permission to hold protests where desecration of the Koran was again planned.
“If they are granted, we are going to face some days where there is a clear risk of something serious happening. I am extremely worried about what it could lead to,” he said.
Sweden’s embassy in Baghdad was stormed and set ablaze on July 20 by protesters angered by a planned Koran burning.
Kristersson said the decision whether to grant permission for the demonstrations was up to the police.
Sweden’s security service, SAPO, has kept its assessment of the threat level at 3 on a scale of 5, signifying an “elevated threat” during the crisis, but its head said there had been a strong reaction to recent events.
“Sweden has gone from being seen as a tolerant country to being seen as an anti-Islamic land,” Charlotte von Essen told reporters on Thursday.
Denmark and Sweden have said they deplore the burning of the Koran but cannot prevent it under rules protecting free speech.
Sweden has accused other countries – such as Russia – of manipulating the crisis to damage its interests and its bid to join NATO.
“In some countries there is a perception that the Swedish state is behind or condone this. We don’t,” Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told reporters on Thursday.
“These are acts committed by individuals, but they do it within the framework of freedom of speech laws,” he said.
Billstrom said he had been in touch with the foreign ministers of Iran, Iraq, Algeria and Lebanon among others as well as the United Nations secretary-general about the current crisis.
“And just now I will speak to the secretary-general for the Organisation of Islamic Countries,” Billstrom said.
“We will discuss these issues and it’s important to stress that this is a long-term issue, there are no quick fixes,” he
The government is facing a difficult balancing act in defending far-reaching freedom of speech laws, while at the same time avoiding potential insult to Muslims.
Its position is not made easier by the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, whose support keeps the right-of-centre coalition in power though the party is not formally part of the government.
Members of Sweden Democrats, the biggest party on the right, have repeatedly warned about the “Islamization” of Swedish society and called for immigrants to adopt “Swedish” values.