The consequences of far-right activist Rasmus Paludan’s Koran burning outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm were extensive, resulting in protests in several Muslim countries and the cancelation of negotiations on Swedish NATO membership. Similar actions by Paludan in the past have led to riots and convictions of individuals for attacking police. The police have refused demonstration permits for Koran burning due to security concerns, but the decision will be reviewed in court. The Muhammad caricatures and Lars Vilks’ life under death threats from Islamists sparked a debate on the value and limits of free expression. A DN/Ipsos survey reveals strong support for the principle of free expression over safeguarding religious scriptures and symbols from abuse, but many people draw a sharp line, with burning religious scriptures seen as prohibited by over half of respondents. Men are more likely to prioritize free expression over religious protection, while those with a foreign background prioritize the latter. Only voters of the far-right Sweden Democrats support the legality of Koran burning, while all other party supporters want a ban. Ipsos conducted 1,370 interviews with persons entitled to vote on this topic between 14-26 March.
When the far-right activist Rasmus Paludan burned the Koran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm, the consequences were extensive. Turkey canceled the negotiations on Swedish NATO membership. Protests broke out in a number of Muslim countries where people felt offended.
When Rasmus Paludan did the same type of actions last spring, there were riots in several places in Sweden. A number of people have subsequently been convicted for their attacks on the police.
The police have now said no to applications for demonstration permits for Koran burnings for security reasons, but that decision will be reviewed in court.
There were similar controversies surrounding the Muhammad caricatures, which were first published in Denmark in 2005 but then also in Sweden. For the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, it came to mean a life under death threats from Islamists.
All these events have sparked debate about the value and limits of freedom of expression. In a new survey, DN/Ipsos asked a series of questions to gauge public opinion.
The result shows that there is relatively strong support in principle for the right to express one’s views on religion. Over half of the respondents believe that this right is more important than protecting religious scriptures and symbols from abuse. Three out of ten believe that it is more important that religions are shown consideration.
Which of the following positions is closest to your own opinion?
Graphics: DN Source: DN/Ipsos
When DN/Ipsos asks questions about what should be allowed or prohibited by law, it turns out, however, that many people want to draw a sharp line for freedom of expression.
The publication of images that violate religious symbols should be allowed, according to just over half of the respondents, something that has a direct bearing on the Muhammad caricatures. An approximately equal majority is also for it to be legal to ridicule religious scriptures and symbols in text. In both cases, approximately three out of ten believe that it should be prohibited.
The majority, however, have a completely different opinion when it comes to burning religious scriptures. This should be prohibited, believes just over half of the respondents.
Which of the following do you think should be allowed by law and which should be prohibited by law?
Graphics: DN Source: DN/Ipsos
Today, actions such as Rasmus Paludan’s Koran burning are considered legal in Sweden. DN recently reported that prosecutors have tested whether it could be classified as incitement against a ethnic group. The prosecutor concluded that the law cannot be interpreted that way.
Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson (M) has stated that he did consider the Koran burning outside the Turkish embassy to be inappropriate. At the same time, he stated that it belongs to things that fit within Swedish freedom of expression.
DN/Ipsos survey shows that the majority generally view violations of religious symbols and scriptures negatively, but it is therefore only burning that they want to ban.
– Most people seem to be able to separate what they themselves dislike and what should be allowed, says Nicklas Källebring, opinion analyst at Ipsos.
He states that there are some differences in the perceptions between different groups.
– It is a consistent pattern that men to a greater degree than women think that freedom of expression should trump the protection of religious scriptures and symbols.
For example, there is an even balance among women between those who want to ban the publication of offensive images and those who want it to be allowed. Among the men, the prohibitionists are in a clear minority.
Another difference is that respondents with a foreign background place more importance on protecting religion than those with a Swedish background.
Looking at party political sympathies so it is only among the voters of the Sweden Democrats that there is a majority for it to be legal to burn religious scriptures. Among left-wing parties, it weighs evenly, while the majority among all other parties’ supporters want a ban.
DN/Ipsos has not asked specifically about the scriptures of different religions, but possibly it is Koran burnings that most people spontaneously associate with, given Paludan’s high-profile actions. SD representatives such as Jimmie Åkesson and Richard Jomshof have also particularly clearly come out and defended the right to do what Paludan did.
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