The Danish government said on Friday that it was proposing legislation that would make it illegal to burn copies of the Quran in public places. The Nordic country’s Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard said the proposed law, which he described as “targeted intervention,” would also prohibit the inappropriate handling of other objects with essential religious significance for a religious community, including the Bible and Torah. It would punish those who break the law with fines or up to two years in prison.
Hummelgaard said the move was meant to send an important political signal. He also cited security concerns. The government has been worried about a possible terror attack involving a bomb stuffed with explosives and placed on a bicycle near Copenhagen’s Iraqi, Egyptian, and Turkish embassies this month.
The Danish government has been forced to rethink its approach to Islam following a spate of provocative protests in which copies of the Koran were burned. The desecrations triggered a diplomatic and public backlash in several Muslim countries. They led to concerns that Denmark is seen as a country facilitating the insult and denigration of other cultures, religions, and traditions. It also played into the hands of extremists, according to officials.
Last week, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation asked Denmark and neighboring Sweden to do more to stop the incidents. The Danish Foreign Ministry later said it explored legal means to limit protests involving burning the Koran and other holy texts.
Neighboring Sweden announced on Friday it was extending an existing ban on burning foreign flags to include the Koran and making it illegal to desecrate other religious texts—the move aimed to reduce tensions with Muslim countries and limit terrorist recruitment. The foreign ministry said the decision to change the existing law was not taken lightly but was made in response to the increasing threat of terrorism in Europe.
However, some of Denmark’s opposition parties have argued the plan to criminalize Koran burnings amounts to censorship and will harm freedom of expression. Hummelgaard said the government’s proposal was a targeted intervention and did not change the fact that freedom of expression must have “a comprehensive framework in Denmark.”
But critics say the move is an act of appeasement to religious extremists, who are likely to use the Danish example as ammunition for their fight against what they view as Western encroachment on Muslim culture. Moreover, they say it’s misguided at a time when the EU is grappling with the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. And they note that blasphemy laws have never worked as intended to prevent extremism in the first place. They say that if the government wants to reduce violence in Muslim communities, it should grant women in Muslim countries full citizenship and equal rights, allow same-sex marriages, and abolish Sharia law. That will have a much more significant impact than slapping fines on people who burn a Koran.