After the burning of holy Quran by an Iraqi immigrant to Sweden, the Swedish authorities authorized a request to burn holy books of Torah and Bible outside the Israeli embassy in Stockholm. The permission for this clearly heinous act was justified as an exercise of the freedom of speech. But in a noble gesture the protester, a Muslim, didn’t burn the holy books, saying he only wanted to draw attention to the burning of holy Quran. He said the real reason for the protest was to highlight the difference between freedom of speech and offending other ethnic groups.
The protester has raised an urgent question: that is, whether burning of holy Quran is freedom of speech? But this is not how a predominant majority of people in the world across all faiths look at the issue. Burning of holy Quran has led to protests and condemnations across the Muslim world and drew denunciations from the non-Muslim countries as well. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a resolution on religious hatred and bigotry which was also supported by India, home to the world’s largest Muslim minority. The motion was opposed by the United States and the European Union, which said it conflicts with their positions on human rights and freedom of expression.
The burning of holy Quran ostensibly provoked some people in Sweden to seek permission to burn holy Torah and holy Bible in retaliation. But as it turned out, they only wanted to make a point that doing so is not free speech but blatantly offensive.
That said, the issue still remains that the permission to such burnings is given in the name of freedom of expression. While this right apparently seems a salutary idea, it is not absolute. Despite western claims to being the staunch votaries of free expression, they make stringent exceptions for certain types of speech. For example, racist remarks, slurs are righty condemned, and there are legal provisions in place to protect against hate speech and discrimination based on race or language. Questioning holocaust is also strictly barred. However, religious communities, like Muslims, often find themselves without similar protections, leading to a glaring disparity in the treatment of different communities.
It is essential to acknowledge that communities are diverse and comprise individuals with various beliefs and practices. While some countries may have a significant number of atheists or individuals who are less religiously inclined, this should not be used as a basis to generalize or undermine the significance of religious communities. Muslims Hindus, Christians and Jews have a rich and deeply rooted faith that holds great meaning to them. Dismissing their concerns or subjecting them to hate speech is not only disrespectful but also fosters an environment of intolerance. It is our collective responsibility to denounce these acts, support affected communities, and work towards a society where differences are celebrated, and every individual is treated with dignity and fairness.
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