Light Wave


Russian Propaganda Fans Flames of Swedish Quran Burning Outrage

By Belal Awad · August 4, 2023

In brief…

  • Sweden faces a challenge balancing freedom of speech and respect for minorities after Quran burnings earlier this year caused international uproar.
  • The government is considering tightening laws that now allow the desecration of religious texts due to increased terror threats and pushback from Muslim states.
  • Taking advantage of the situation, Russian state-controlled media are spreading false narratives about Sweden being hostile towards Islam.
  • Swedish security is on high alert with concerns over possible revenge attacks related to the Quran burnings.
Russia has tried to tarnish Sweden's image among Muslims following Qarun burnings earlier this year.  LearningLark/Wikimedia

Sweden is working to strike a delicate balance between freedom of speech and respect for religious minorities following international backlash against a series of protests this year involving the burning of the Quran, Islam’s holiest book. The Swedish government may tighten laws that currently permit the desecration of religious texts following an increase in terror threats, and a diplomatic row that has erupted between the Scandinavian nation and several Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Russia, meanwhile, has used the predicament as an opportunity to muddy Sweden’s reputation within the Muslim world.

On the diplomatic crisis, Swedish Foreign Minister Billström said, “The mere fact that we perceive an increased security threat as a result of Quran burnings is enough for us to make these decisions.” The minister also noted that the demonstrations provide a ripe propaganda opportunity for those seeking to tarnish Sweden’s image among Muslims. It’s this opportunity that Russia has seized upon, according to experts.

Mikail Ostlund, of the Swedish Psychological Defence Agency said Russia is capitalizing on these incidents to spread false narratives about Sweden being hostile towards Islam. “Russia [is] using the narratives, focusing on the false picture of Sweden being hostile against Islam… in their state-controlled media channels, like Russia Today and Sputnik, towards the Arabic-speaking people,” Ostland told DW News.

Political activist Husam El Gomati, who attended one of the protests to try and calm tensions, showed DW News examples of posts in Arabic from Russian media sources, which, he said, demonstrate how Russia is manipulating the story. “The elements of Russian interference are quite shown… This kind of message has an echo. So it is effective, and it’s dangerous, and we need to make a stop to this,” El Gomati said.

In the meantime, Swedish authorities remain on high alert, with enhanced policing and border patrols to prevent the possibility of a revenge attack for the Quran burnings.