Quran Burning and UN Free Speech or Hate Speech?


Date published: Mon, 17 July 23

Quran Burning is an act of protest against actions and attitudes perceived to be of Muslim people and groups. It is known to be wildly offensive towards Muslims, and is seen as an attack against the Muslim people. The Quran is regarded as a holy book, with special protocol and ritual purification even before opening it. Even so, the recent debate about the Quran, and other holy book destruction, has awakened a debate about free speech in western countries like Sweden. Citizens believe they have the right to speak freely about their opinions, even if they offendand hurt others. Still, there is a debate about the vulnerability of minorities, and Muslims and other religious groups can fall into protected classes, to prevent acts of violence and otherization.  

The United Nations Human Rights Council also sprung into action, introducing a resolution about religious hatred in the wake of the Sweden Quran Burnings. This resolution urged countries to address, prevent and prosecute acts and advocacy of religious hatred”. Muslim countries across the world supported the resolution, citing the danger of incitement of violence against religious minorities. Many other countries also voted for the bill, recognizing the importance of speaking against hate speech. Many Western countries, however, voted against it, expressing concern about the violation of the values of free speech.

What is especially interesting however, is what caused this most recent incident of Quran Burning. It was not a protest against Muslims or Islam, but simply a protest against the Swedish government’s attempt to ban Quran Burning after a previous incident. It seems as though many such cases are like this; attempts to stir the pot, offend religious minorities, and extract reactions from them. This is reminiscent of the experience of childhood, when one sibling irks and annoys the other constantly, shifting the boundaries of household rules without actually breaking them. When the other sibling reacts, the parents snap at the victim, despite the unfairness of the situation. The first child has escaped punishment, and despite there being no excuse for violence, it seems that the context of the disagreement has left the equation when the second child is disciplined.

The other option for why Quran Burnings occur is similarly sinister. To protest the Islamic faith, and the Muslim people by burning the Holy Book, one would need to generalize all Muslims, and fall into fear-mongering tactics that associate Islam and Muslims in a negative light. Thus, the Quran Burning is an incident of Islamophobia and xenophobia, a racist act that falls into the category of hate speech, a limitation on freedom of speech in even the most “free” of countries.

The next time this debate arises; is it hate speech or freedom of speech; we ask, what are you protesting, and how is doing what you are doing going to further your message?