The leader of an Islamophobic far-right group in the Netherlands has desecrated Islam’s holy book, the Quran, in the second such instance that took place in Western Europe this week, threatening to deepen the strain with the broader Muslim world even further.
Dutch politician Edwin Wagensveld, the head of the far-right PEGIDA, tore pages out of the holy book before setting them on fire, a video posted Monday on his Twitter account showed.
Wagensveld claimed in the video that he received permission from the local authorities for “the destruction of the Quran” in front of the parliamentary building The Hague.
He was arrested on two previous occasions because of anti-Muslim sentiments, as recently as last October, during another rally with a small group of PEGIDA supporters in Rotterdam where he once again attempted to torch the Quran.
As Wagensveld tore a page out of the holy book and scrunched it up, he said: "Soon, there will be registrations for similar actions in several cities, time to answer disrespect from Islam with disrespect."
Wagensveld’s provocation follows a similar Islamophobic protest on Saturday in Sweden, where a Danish extremist burned a copy of the holy book in a police-approved demonstration.
The Muslim community worldwide has been outraged since the weekend at anti-Islam activist Rasmus Paludan, who staged his provocative demonstration in front of the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm while delivering a hatred-filled speech and the Swedish authorities who allowed him under the guise of “freedom of expression.”
The scandalous incident has sparked backlash not only in Türkiye, the apparent target of the hate crime, but also around the world, with countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and many others “strongly condemning and rejecting” it.
On Monday, the U.S. State Department described the incident as “repugnant and vile,” saying, “Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act” but stopped short of condemning it.
Paludan’s demonstration has been particularly offensive for Türkiye as it has been locked in negotiations with Sweden over its impending application to join NATO.
Since launching an official bid last year alongside Finland, Stockholm has been courting Ankara to secure a green light. Still, Türkiye has been resolute in its demands that its security concerns about the terrorists Sweden is harboring and tolerating be addressed.
Per a tripartite memorandum the sides inked in June last year, Stockholm has vowed to meet the said demands, including extraditing and increasing its crackdown on terrorist groups like the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). For the previous month, however, public support in Sweden for the terrorist groups from their sympathizers has been raising the tensions between the two countries, which Ankara has repeatedly warned would jeopardize Stockholm’s NATO membership process.
Turkish officials this week criticized Stockholm for its continued inaction about the widespread demonstrations by terrorist sympathizers, as well as racist, Islamophobic politicians in the country.
Paludan’s provocation was the salt on the already bleeding wound from another scandalous incident earlier this month in Stockholm, where an effigy of President Erdoğan was hanged from its feet in front of the city hall by a group of PKK supporters. Ankara condemned it as “racist propaganda” and argued it was a “concrete display” of Sweden’s failure to adhere to its NATO deal.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Türkiye, the European Union and the United States and is responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children and infants.
Also on Monday, in a press briefing following the Cabinet meeting, Erdoğan slammed Sweden for authorizing such scandals and declared that the country “should not expect support from Türkiye on its NATO bid.”
"If you don't respect the religion of Türkiye or Muslims, you won't get any support from us on NATO," he said. “If Sweden prefers terrorist sympathizers and Islamophobes, then Türkiye suggests they should let them defend their country too.”
Stockholm’s defense has been that “freedom of expression is crucial to democracy but what is legal is not necessarily appropriate."
"Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act. I want to express my sympathy for all Muslims offended by what has happened in Stockholm today,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said on Twitter.
Foreign Minister Tobias Billström too argued his government does not support the burning of holy scriptures but also claimed freedom of expression “makes it legal from a Swedish point of view.”
Türkiye remains incensed about the incident, and Sweden’s bid to ascend to NATO seems more in peril than ever as the country has proven repeatedly that it will not be joining NATO any time soon.