Denmark’s legislation to criminalise Islamophobic acts of burning religious texts, especially the Holy Quran, reflects a balancing act between protecting religious sentiments and upholding freedom of expression. Though advocates of the latter are still in good numbers, as is evident from the 94-77 voting ratio in the House, the passing of the bill which was first proposed in August is a big move, nevertheless. Fierce debate over protecting individual liberties and showing sensitivity towards the religious sentiments of a community have kept the House busy in recent months.
Denmark has been one such country that has seen multiple instances of the burning of the Quran – something that has enraged Muslim countries and communities beyond measure. The last incident outside the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen brought strong words from the Turkish President, Erdogan. The extremist act has been equally condemned by other Muslim countries as well. Attacking and infringing on religious values should not come guised as freedom of expression. If a country protects such extreme acts, it is only sowing the seeds for more intolerance to follow.
Striking the right balance is crucial, as the amended bill now addresses concerns about limiting freedom of speech, which were earlier raised when the bill was first introduced. Similar debates on handling religious desecrations are occurring in other countries, like Sweden, highlighting the complexity of navigating cultural sensitivities and individual liberties. This legislation is a good starting point as it has established that a balance is possible and that Western liberal values must hold regard for religious sentiments.
Islamophobia has spread like a plague in the West in the aftermath of the War on Terror. But Muslim communities have been resilient to survive in such challenging environments where their basic values are seen as some sort of threat. It is difficult to say when or if the Islamophobic wave will settle down but Denmark’s legislation is at least a state-sanctioned acknowledgement of an extreme Islamophobic act.