Swedish officials pick and choose when they want to be free speech absolutists, and when they decide a horrific red line has finally been crossed.
One of the first social skills you are taught as a child is to know how to behave in a manner that endears people toward you so that you can make friends while simultaneously advancing your own interests and those of the group you are in. Shockingly, and despite being one of the oldest nation-states in Europe now desirous of NATO membership, it seems as though Sweden has dramatically failed to learn this lesson. Worse yet, it has in fact adopted the opposite position and sought to not only antagonise Türkiye, but to insult almost two billion Muslims around the world.
Stockholm’s stance is made even more repugnant by the fact that, while it waves the banner of freedom of expression when allowing the demonisation and insulting Muslims, it had no similar sentiments when choosing to crack down on those who were deemed to be offensive to the Jewish community just months ago. This demonstrates how Swedish officials pick and choose when they want to be free speech absolutists, and when they decide a horrific red line has finally been crossed.
Punching down on Muslims
Last October, Rebecka Fallenkvist, an official within the Sweden Democrats, came under fire from both Israeli officials and members of the Jewish community more broadly after making derogatory and offensive posts on social media about Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank. Frank was murdered by the Nazis in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust in 1945, and her diary, written while hiding in an Amsterdam attic, documents what life was like under German persecution.
Rather than making excuses for their colleague who attacked a teenage Holocaust victim as “immoral”, or claiming freedom of expression, the Sweden Democrats – the largest member of the right-wing governing bloc and the second largest party in the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag – rightly took decisive action and suspended Fallenkvist. The party went further still, condemning her words as being “insensitive and inappropriate”, and pledging an investigation.
Mere months later, and another genocidal bigot is on the prowl, this time in the shape of Rasmus Paludan. Yet again targeting the Muslim community, Paludan, under the guise of protesting against Türkiye’s demands that Sweden takes Ankara’s national security priorities seriously, made an application to the Swedish authorities to sign off on his demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where he made it clear he will desecrate and burn a copy of the Quran.
Once more, the banner of freedom of expression was unfurled, as the Swedish authorities gave Paludan the greenlight to continue his persecution and demonisation of Muslims, already a vulnerable minority across the world.
Stockholm is acutely aware of how Muslims are the victims of numerous far-right atrocities stoked by such stunts, including that of the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand where dozens of Muslims were murdered by white supremacist Brenton Tarrant who was inspired by another Scandinavian anti-Muslim murderer, Anders Breivik.
Naturally, this did not seem to bother the Swedes. They allowed Paludan, a man they had previously banned from entering their country on the basis of his hate speech, to burn the Islamic holy book and inflame social and communal tensions in the process.
Why did Stockholm allow this to happen, knowing not only Ankara, but the entire Muslim world would be gravely insulted? Why did Sweden do this, knowing Türkiye holds the key to their accession to NATO?
The answer lies in their inherent Islamophobia that they simply cannot bottle up for too long. The mask of European civility, one way or another, always inevitably slips and reveals the ugly face of racism and supremacist attitudes that lie beneath.
Who’s trying to teach us about free speech?
In geopolitical terms, and after the shock of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine almost a year ago, Sweden made an urgent application to join NATO to protect its country from any potential aggression. Clearly, Stockholm thought Moscow was going to steamroll its way through Ukraine and control Kiev within a short space of time.
To that end, and knowing Türkiye would need to accept its application for it to accede to NATO unless it changed its behaviour, Sweden agreed to take Turkish security concerns seriously and even started deporting some terror suspects into Turkish custody.
Moreover, and perhaps after seeing Russia has failed to conquer Ukraine as originally anticipated, and while facing increasing public pressure from leftist groups and others, the Swedish authorities have become more blasé about their approach to NATO membership, and have allowed their true feelings towards Türkiye and the Muslim world to rise to the surface once again.
However, and if you’re Sweden and you are going to pick a champion of free speech to march forth and insult your “enemies”, you might want to pick a better candidate than Paludan. Not only is the man a far-right nut who has expressed genocidal ideas towards Muslims, but he is someone who has had restraining orders issued against him for stalking young men, has been convicted of racist hate speech, and was exposed by Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet as having paedophilic tendencies by talking about sexually explicit subjects in front of teenage boys – something he did not view as being inherently wrong, even as he denied knowing their age.
I am certain most normal people would rather have a more straight-laced individual as their champion, rather than a sexual predator. But, perhaps, the Swedish authorities find such vile individuals more palatable to their vaunted European values more than the sentiments of billions of Muslims around the world, including those who live in countries like Türkiye, a country Sweden now wants its people to lay their lives on the line for them in case they are attacked.
But, and going back to childhood lessons, perhaps it is time for Stockholm to take stock of its own actions before asking others to sacrifice their lives for its safety.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org