InternationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 34

Safeguarding peace and prosperity in a connected world

Our world requires religious tolerance, political wisdom, social harmony, economic equality, cultural diversity, and a love for humanity in order to survive in this era of rapid communication and artificial intelligence, which has transformed it into a global village. The world cannot afford to tolerate any acts or speeches that promote hatred and hurt the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, as such actions have the potential to ignite violence and destroy global peace and prosperity.

Regrettably, religious intolerance, prejudice, and hatred are on the rise across the globe, particularly in Europe. A recent incident involving the burning of the Holy Quran by Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee, outside a mosque in Sweden with authorization from the Swedish government, has reignited concerns about the persistent problem of Islamophobia. This abhorrent crime, which took place during the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Adha, is a blatant violation of religious freedom and a direct attack on the feelings of approximately 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide.

This is not the first incident of its kind. In January, Rasmus Paludan, a politician from the far-right and racist Stram Kurs party, burned the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy while Swedish police simply watched. The Swedish government’s response to this heinous act was notably weak, with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson describing it as “disrespectful.” However, preceding this description, he stated, “But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate.”

The Swedish government has once again criticized the latest incident using similar mild language, but it has also emphasized the country’s “constitutionally protected right to freedom of assembly, expression, and demonstration.” Numerous condemnations have been issued worldwide.

The European Union (EU) has characterized it as “an act of provocation,” asserting that “manifestations of racism, xenophobia, and related intolerance have no place in Europe.” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which consists of 57 member states, has condemned the act and called for adherence to international law, which “clearly prohibits any advocacy of religious hatred.” The Pope has also stated that “Freedom of speech should never be used as a means to despise others, and allowing that is rejected and condemned.”

These statements clearly reveal that the core issue lies in the “legality” of such atrocious actions. Freedom of speech and expression should not be linked to hate speech. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has unequivocally declared that “addressing hate speech does not mean limiting or prohibiting freedom of speech. It means preventing hate speech from escalating into something more dangerous, particularly incitement to discrimination, hostility, and violence, which is prohibited under international law.”

The UN Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech defines hate speech as “any form of communication, whether in speech, writing, or behavior, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender, or any other identity factor.”

Yucel Acer, a professor of International Law at Ankara Yıldırım Beyazıt University, writes: “The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which forty-six European states, including Sweden and Turkey, are parties, defines the right in question under the title of ‘Freedom of expression’ in Paragraph 1 of Article 10. Can people say or express whatever they want, even if it hurts millions of people, or just one? The answer to this question is essentially provided in Paragraph 2 of Article 10, which clearly states that freedom of expression is not unlimited. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions, or penalties as prescribed by law and necessary in a democratic society. These restrictions are in the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety, the prevention of disorder or crime, the protection of health or morals, the protection of the reputation or rights of others, the prevention of the disclosure of confidential information, or the maintenance of the authority and impartiality of the judiciary. The court emphasizes that freedom of expression cannot be regarded as the right to humiliate others based on race, language, religion, or gender… It is illegal for Sweden to turn a blind eye to these acts under the guise of freedom of expression. Instead, it should ban such so-called protests and extradite or prosecute terrorist suspects and criminals.”

The Holocaust, during which six million Jews were killed in the dark days of Hitler and World War II, is a period that Europe will never forget. The images and stories from that time have left an indelible mark on people worldwide, particularly in Europe. In 2005, the UN declared January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Denying the Holocaust is even considered illegal in several European nations. Today’s society is once again treading a dangerous path of hatred, directed at minorities and ethnic and religious groups, which must be halted.

In response to the hatred directed at the Muslim world, the UN has declared March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia. However, the world, including Europe, must work diligently to combat Islamophobia in the same manner it combats anti-Semitism. Failing to do so will lead to the destruction of our world.

Our world needs religious tolerance, political sagacity, social harmony, economic equality, cultural diversity and love for humanity if it wants to survive in this age of rapid communication and artificial intelligence, which has turned it into a global village. The world cannot afford to allow any hateful act or speech that could injure the feelings of hundreds of thousands of people across the globe because it can ignite hatred and violence, which could ultimately destroy the entire world’s peace and prosperity.