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EditorialRedefining freedom of expression

Redefining freedom of expression

For the several weeks now, condemnations are being directed towards Sweden once again following another incident of desecration of the Holy Quran.

Though, the Swedish government itself condemned the act, it was not enough to pacify the Muslims throughout the world.

Pakistan observed Friday as the Holy Quran Sanctity Day, with various organisations and political parties bringing out rallies to condemn the most disgraceful act committed by an Iraqi refugee in Sweden who tore up the Holy Quran and burnt it outside Stockholm’s central mosque on the first day of Eidul Azha in the country. The act drew strong condemnation from various countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Palestine, Turkiye, Jordan, Morocco and Iraq.

Morocco even recalled its ambassador for an indefinite period to protest the incident. Even the European Union issued condemnation against the incident in Sweden.

In a statement, the EU spokesperson for foreign affairs and security policy, Nabila Massrali, said manifestations of racism, xenophobia and related intolerance had no place in Europe.

“It is even more deplorable that such an act was carried out on the important Muslim celebration of Eidul Azha,” she said. Pope Francis also raised his voice against the act, saying that the incident made him angry and disgusted. “Any book considered holy should be respected to respect those who believe in it,” the pontiff said.

Demonstrations erupted throughout the Muslim world, with many countries summoning the Swedish envoy to register their protests. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif gave a call for nationwide protests to protest against the desecration of the Holy Quran outside a mosque in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. He urged his fellow countrymen to participate in the protests to send out a strong message to those who indulge in such condemnable acts.

He also directed the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to bring out rallies across the country. He convened a joint session of the Parliament to evolve a national plan of action in the wake of the incident. According to the Foreign Office spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Pakistan also took up the issue with the Swedish Charge d’Affairs.

In her statement, Ms Baloch said: “We strongly condemn the despicable acts of public burning of the Holy Quran in Sweden and other countries in Europe. And we believe that such willful incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence cannot be justified under the guise of freedom of expression. The recurrence of such Islamophobic incidents call into serious question the legal framework which permits such hate-driven actions.” She said Islamabad had called for an urgent debate on the matter at the UN Human Rights Council and demanded that measures be taken to prevent the rising incidents of xenophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.

Prime Minister Sharif took up the incident with Organisa­tion of Islamic Coopera­tion (OIC) Secretary General Hissein Ibra­him Taha, urging the organisation to devise a comprehensive strategy to create global awareness about its perspective and building legal and political deterrence against rising incidents of Islamophobia.

Following the incident, an extraordinary meeting of the OIC was called to discuss the deplorable act. It later issued a statement in which the body called for collective measures to prevent acts of desecration of the Holy Quran and demanded that international law should be used to stop religious hatred. Hurting sentiments of any religious or ethnic group should never be passed over as freedom of expression. No respectful society would allow an act that sows hatred and damages its very fabric.

It has happened all too often in Sweden now. The West should realise that such acts would only ignite hatred and lead to violence. Being an open society does not mean that one should be allowed to hurt people’s feeling. It’s high time that an effective international law is passed which prohibits such acts. It is the responsibility of every country to see to it that no individual or organisation commits an act that leads to chaos.

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