The omertà on criticising Islam has, predictably, produced a new extremist
Koran-burning agitator Rasmus Paludan is an odd fish. No matter what you think of his political views, what he has done is uncommon — no matter where you look in the world, few dare to challenge the religion of Islam. His antics are gaining more and more attention.
His methods are as provocative as they are extreme: last month, his party live streamed Paludan burning the Koran in various Swedish cities, triggering protests and counter-protests in Malmo and elsewhere. For this stunt, Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson called Paludan a “right-wing extremist fool, whose only goal is to drive violence and divisions.”
But the emergence of a character like Paludan can, in large part, be explained by the Omertà across Sweden on Islam. In a podcast in Svenska Dagbladet, the leader of the centrist party, Annie Lööf, reasoned that people should not be allowed to criticise Islam during the holy month of Ramadan, nor in “vulnerable areas” (which are dominated by Muslims) while police officer Nadim Ghazale advocated in an article in Expressen: that it should be illegal to offend Islam, because — he argues — Muslims are a vulnerable minority in Sweden.
Ghazale partly got what he wished for: Rasmus Paludan was denied permits to demonstrate in Swedish cities because the police said they were not able to protect either him or themselves. Nor is it just in Sweden where Paludan is persona non grata; around Europe, the Right-wing activist has been denied entry because he was classified as a security threat. In France, he poses a “threat to the nation’s security”; in Germany, he was denied entry twice; and in Belgium, five of his supporters were expelled.
Still, these rulings have not stopped Paludan from making political inroads. As a dual national of Denmark and Sweden, his party Stram Kurs (Hard Line) contested the last elections in Denmark in 2019 on an anti-Islam platform but fell just short of the 2% threshold needed to enter parliament. Now, the 40-year-old is turning his attention towards Sweden, where he plans to stand in September parliamentary elections. Most likely he will fail, but that’s besides the point.
When everyone else has fallen silent on legitimate matters of religious criticism, it should not be a surprise that hardline activists like Rasmus Paludan emerge. He might be a fool (he nearly lost his life in Uppsala earlier this month when a mob of angry Muslims tried to attack him), but he is a fool who points out harsh truths. He does it in a needlessly provocative manner, but this is the natural result when the entire political class has flatly refused to address the issues relating to Islam in Sweden.
Here in Sweden, we tell ourselves that we are secular and rational, believe in freedom of speech, democracy and so on. But we are only secular in relation to Christianity (and most other religions for that matter), not so much in relation to Islam. Not in public at least. Until we are free to discuss these issues, there’ll be many more Rasmus Paludans to come.