Burning the Quran a Cop-out for Feckless Activists
Burning a book is easy. Writing or translating one is a much more difficult, worthwhile endeavor.
On Wednesday of last week, during Eid al-Adha, a prominent Islamic holiday, Sweden allowed the burning of the Muslim holy book outside a mosque. Unsurprisingly, Muslim-majority countries like Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia swiftly and unflinchingly condemned the display as a blatant act of disrespect and desecration of Muslim’s holy book.
A free speech absolutist, I am fortunate to have the ability and platform to condemn this act, in no uncertain terms, as counterproductive, lazy, and impetuous. With Sweden currently vying for a spot in Nato, this stunt could not have come at a worse time. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey was already hesitant about supporting Sweden’s bid for admission into the alliance and is almost certainly not going to change his mind in Sweden’s favor after this.
When you know a specific behavior will infuriate more than a billion people spanning the globe, what is truly your objective? The two men who participated in this display of stupidity had a clear objective: to ridicule Islam and its practitioners under the guise of free speech. While they may have had the right to do so, that does not mean they should have. Worse still, one of the men involved was an Iraqi refugee. In a time when the country that accepted you as a refugee is applying for Nato status and needs approval from a majority Muslim country like Turkey, I can’t imagine a more selfish decision. Who knew that two idiots held in their hands the power to upend major diplomatic alliances in just a few hours?
While the Stockholm police say they are investigating Mr. Momika for violating the burning ban and for incitement against a group of people, the damage has been done. If I’m being charitable and believe that the objective of these so-called "activists" was to encourage people in the Middle East and the Muslim world to understand and be more aware of the values of pluralism, free speech, and expression, they have utterly and completely failed. Rather than burn a book billions of people consider sacred, why not write or translate a book instead? Destroying things is easy. Building them, however, is hard. Those not willing to take on the arduous work necessary to engender lasting change in the Middle East should step aside and let those of us who are, continue to build— brick by brick.
Ideas Beyond Borders, the nonprofit organization I founded alongside Melissa Chen, has translated and generated content centered around freedom of speech, critical thinking, and countless other subjects that are watched by tens of millions of people all over the Middle East. The way to influence those you disagree with is by engaging them directly, respectfully. Burning books is, in my experience, always a bad idea.
Of course, I know and am thankful for the fact that hateful and idiotic speech is protected in places like the United States and Sweden, and that's one of the benefits of living in a free society. Government should not hold the power to silence citizens. Having lived under Sadam Hussein’s regime, no one is more aware of that fact than I am. That doesn’t mean we should encourage those who seek to destroy alliances, prospective partnerships, and the potential for positive change.
I wish everyone a very happy EID and Fourth of July.
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