The desecration of the Holy Quran in Norway has drawn worldwide condemnation and outrage. It has also raised questions about the rising Islamophobia and widespread anti-Muslim sentiments in the West.
The extreme right-wing group ‘Stop the Islamisation of Norway’ attempted to burn a copy of the Holy Quran in the small town of Kristiansand. The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, set fire to the holy book before a Muslim man intervened to prevent the blasphemous act.
The arson sparked anger among Muslims about the acceptance of such practices and whether the disrespect of religious symbols constitutes freedom of speech. Norway has a good reputation for welcoming people from other countries, but policies against hate speech and anti-Muslim sentiments have raised criticism.
In August, a gunman attacked a mosque in Oslo before he was stopped by two bystanders. The attacker was inspired by the shootings in New Zealand where a white supremacist went on a rampage in two mosques killing 49 Muslims. Norway has 150,000 Muslims out of a population of five million, but far-right anti-Muslim propaganda has become widespread.
The anti-Muslim propaganda was perpetuated by white supremacist Anders Breivik who committed the 2011 Norway attacks, shooting dead 69 people at a youth camp. The hate filled narratives, once confined to the dark corners of the internet, have entered the mainstream narrative via media and political parties.
Conspiracy theories, dubbed Eurabia, allege that Muslims seek to reconstruct and rule the western world. These myths have gained popularity and visibility in the politics of many European countries, Australia, and the US. When Donald Trump speaks of the Muslim ban, he too is invoking the myth and appeasing white supremacist groups.
The media has pandered to anti-Muslim far-right conspiracies which have gained a foothold. According to a survey, one in three Norwegians is convinced that Muslims pose a threat to their culture, and thirty percent believe Muslims will take over Europe. They are certain that Muslims are a threat to their way of life, as they do want to integrate into their society.
Although far-right groups are warning about the dangers of Muslim immigration, it must be realised that this has resulted in rising intolerance, hatred and violence. Muslims still constitute a minority in Europe and cannot be considered a threat. Many have escaped persecution from their countries and made Europe their home.
European countries are considered as the flag-bearers of liberal policies and free thought. They should form policies which should not hurt religious sentiments. More worrisome is the silence of the Muslim world as only a handful, notably Pakistan and Turkey, have issued condemnations on the blasphemous incident.