Now is the time for Sweden to show flexible thinking

Book-burning throughout history has been the refuge of zealots, extremists and thugs. Sweden's current absolutist stance on freedom of expression needs to change, or the far-right extremists will win and Skellefteå will lose out on attracting more highly-educated Muslim professionals to help build the green transition.

Danish extremist, Rasmus Paludan's Koran-burning visits to Skellefteå in 2022 caused clashes.

Danish extremist, Rasmus Paludan's Koran-burning visits to Skellefteå in 2022 caused clashes.

Foto: Jenny Peterson

Brott & Straff2023-08-04 12:07

Cards on the table: I’m an atheist. 

But I have no problem with those who still have faith, as long as they don’t evangelize. I’m me, you’re you, let's get on with making Skellefteå the center of the green revolution in Sweden. That’s what’s important to me, not someone’s personal beliefs.

Indeed, several of the people I’ve interviewed for Norran English recently have been Muslim professionals who’d come to work in Skellefteå, many of them at Northvolt. All these people made a point of emphasizing the warm welcome they’d received from the people of Skellefteå.

Which is why I find the far-right activists burning korans in Stockholm so abhorrent. I have no time for the subsequent complaints of anti-democratic, authoritarian dictatorships such as Iran. And I certainly don’t want a reinstatement of blasphemy laws - such a law would give religion a totally unfair say in a society as secular as Sweden’s.

But I do care that northern Sweden, and Skellefteå in particular, might be missing out on welcoming more incredibly highly-educated Muslim professionals to help us build a new society.

After all, would you feel welcome in a country that indulges far-right fanatics in their book-burning, attention-seeking idiocy? 

And we all know the far-right does love to burn a book. 

Albert Einstein's books were burned by the Nazis (AP Photo, File)

Most famously the Nazis burned thousands of books including the works of Jewish authors such as Albert Einstein and those of "corrupting foreign influences" such as Ernest Hemingway. 

In February 2015, the terrorist group, The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, who were deeply, radically conservative), burned down the Mosul University library in Iraq.

In more recent times, Republicans in Virginia, in the US, who were against teaching about race and sexuality in schools, said at a meeting “I think we should throw those books in a fire.”In the same year, 2021, far-right Tennessee pastor Greg Locke oversaw the burning of books as horrifyingly subversive as Harry Potter and Twilight.

Even Harry Potter books have been burned by far-right zealots.

This is the level of people we’re dealing with now in Stockholm (and, sadly, probably here again in Skellefteå as an encore to last year’s pitiful far-right exhibitions of cultural barbarity in Guldtorget led by Danish extremist, Rasmus Paludan), burning and stamping on copies of the Koran. 

They’re not to be listened to, these book killers: they have nothing to say worth hearing, because all they can do is destroy. Their book burning is the equivalent to an incoherent howl of “I hate everyone who’s different to me!”

These pitiful, inadequate human beings hide behind the shield of freedom of expression. 

Rasmus Paludan in Skellefteå in 2022.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. Disagreeing with the ideas and beliefs of others and promoting one's own values is the essence of freedom of expression. But book-burning shouldn't fall under the remit of freedom of expression. They offer no exchange of ideas, no reasoned thought. It's just inflammatory, hate-fuelled vandalism. It’s theater for morons. 

Meanwhile, the Swedish government stands rigidly behind the concept of absolute freedom of expression. It seems to think that we either have total freedom of expression or we have none. This stubbornness, this inability to recognise that life is not black and white, that there are nuances to all situations and circumstances, is recognizable to all those who have moved here from other, less inflexible, democracies. 

We immigrants to Skellefteå have probably all faced this obstinacy in dealings with local institutions, such as government officials and shop staff. 

Swedish people are generally very kind and efficient, but they do not like to bend rules to facilitate a solution to a problem. That minor, last-minute missed detail on your tax return, or paying with cash at a shop and being one krona short at the till, these errors are rarely forgiven. “Sorry,” they say, “I can’t help you – those are the rules.” This is a usually very minor downside to living in one of the world’s least corrupt nations.

But if ever there was a time for Sweden to show some flexible thinking, now is the time. 

Dealing with these narcissistic book-burning halfwits doesn’t mean scrapping the concept of freedom of expression. Instead, the government needs to understand that some people will exploit this basic human right, not to encourage debate, but to foment hatred and division. 

Book burning is an assault on knowledge, ideas and a person's freedom to think, create or question. By destroying ideas, the book burners are little by little diminishing the world's store of knowledge. Such deeds actually undermine freedom of expression.

The answer? The destruction of all books should be banned, not just religious books. That’s it. Whether it’s burning books or stomping on books, William Shakespeare or the Koran, just make it illegal. Seriously, has any good ever come from allowing people to destroy books? 

This text is a column and the opinions are the writers own.

Paludan brände en koran.
Paludan brände en koran.