Protesters try to storm Green Zone

Thousands in Muslim-majority countries take to the streets

An Iraqi throws a stone during clashes with security forces in front of the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, July 20, 2023. The protest was in response to the burning of the Holy Quran in Sweden. (AP)

BAGHDAD, July 22, (Agencies): Tensions flared again in Iraq Saturday over a series of recent protests in Europe involving desecration of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, which have sparked a debate over the balance between freedom of speech and religious sensitivities. Hundreds of attempted protesters to storm Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses foreign embassies and the seat of Iraq’s government, early Saturday following reports that an ultranationalist group burned a copy of the Quran in front of the Iraqi Embassy in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.

The protest came two days after people angered by the planned burning of the Islamic holy book in Sweden stormed the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad. Security forces on Saturday pushed back the protesters, who blocked the Jumhuriya bridge leading to the Green Zone, preventing them from reaching the Danish Embassy. In Kuwait, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Friday voiced Kuwait’s emphatic condemnation and denunciation of the insulting of the Holy Quran by an extremist for the second time in Sweden.

The minister, in a press statement, warned that such repeated practices would provoke the sentiments of Muslims, especially as they coincide with their celebration of New Hijri Year. He also held the Swedish side fully responsible for the rampancy of such acts that fuel the discourses of hatred against Muslims and incite violence, especially as this incident was repeated by the same person within a short period of time. In the light of this condemnable act, Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al- Jaber Al-Sabah underlined that the State of Kuwait was currently consulting and coordinating with Gulf, Arab and Muslim countries to convene an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in a bid to take concrete and practical steps to thwart the recurrence of such unacceptable acts.

The minister, further, called upon the international community to decry the discourse of hatred, exert efforts to establish the values ​​of tolerance and respect of religions, and to enact laws and legislation that denounce and prohibit blasphemy. Elsewhere in Iraq, protesters burned three caravans belonging to a demining project run by the Danish Refugee Council, or DRC, in the city of Basra in the south, local police said in a statement. The fire was extinguished by civil defense responders, and there were “no human casualties, only material losses,” the statement said. The DRC confirmed in an emailed statement to The Associated Press that its premises in Basra “came under armed attack” early Saturday. “We deplore this attack – aid workers should never be a target of violence,” Lilu Thapa, DRC’s executive director for the Middle East said. Iraq’s prime minister has cut diplomatic ties with Sweden in protest over the desecration of the Quran in that country.

A protester throws an egg at the Swedish Embassy in Tehran, Iran, in a protest against Sweden after the Nordic nation allowed an Iraqi man to desecrate the Holy Quran, Friday, July 21, 2023. (AP)

In a statement on Saturday, the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “in strong and repeated terms, the incident of abuse against the Holy Quran and the flag of the Republic of Iraq in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Denmark.” It called the international community “to stand urgently and responsibly towards these atrocities that violate social peace and coexistence around the world.” the statementread. Thousands of people took to the streets in a handful of Muslim majority countries Friday to express their outrage at the desecration of a copy of the Quran in Sweden, a day after protesters stormed the country’s embassy in Iraq.

The protests in Iraq, Lebanon and Iran that followed weekly prayers were controlled and peaceful, in contrast to the scenes in Baghdad on Thursday, when demonstrators occupied the Swedish Embassy compound for several hours and set a small fire. The embassy staff had been evacuated before the storming, and Swedish news agency TT reported that they were relocated to Stockholm for security reasons. For Muslims, any desecration of the Quran, their holy text, is abhorrent. The Jordanian Foreign Ministry on Saturday denounced the burning of a copy of the Holy Quran by extremists in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, on Friday.

The ministry said, in a press release, that this marks an act of hatred and Islamophobia that incites violence and disrespects religions. It underlined its disapproval and condemnation of these irresponsible acts and behavior that provoke Muslims’ sentiments, fuel hatred and put peaceful coexistence into jeopardy. The ministry, further, emphasized that the recurrence of such racist acts and behavior requires the international community to muster efforts to address and prevent them and to enact laws that criminalize and ban the desecration of religious symbols and sanctities. The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Charge D’Affaires of the Swedish Embassy on Friday to hand her a protest note over the repeated desecration of the Holy Quran in Stockholm.

The UAE strongly condemned the decision of the Swedish government to continue to allow such acts to occur, according to a statement from the ministry carried by the UAE news agency (WAM). The UAE stressed that Sweden has disregarded its international responsibilities and demonstrated a lack of respect for social values ​​in this regard. The Ministry emphasized the importance of monitoring hate speech and expressions of racism that negatively impact peace and security. It expressed its rejection of the use of freedom of expression as justification for such heinous acts, according to the statement.

The Ministry underscored the UAE’s rejection of all practices aimed at undermining security and stability in contravention of human values ​​and principles. It reaffirmed that hate speech and extremism contradict international efforts to spread the values ​​of tolerance, coexistence and peace between peoples. The Ministry underscored that the allowance of such heinous acts contradicts international norms and laws that prevent attacks on religions and religious symbols, and that hate speech and extremism contribute to the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of conflict worldwide.


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