Sweden: Hate Speech Just for Imams
Are some individuals receiving preferential treatment under Sweden's "hate speech" laws? It seems that way.
Under the Swedish Penal Code, a person can be held responsible for incitement if a statement or representation made "threatens or disrespects an ethnic group or other such group of persons with regards to race, color, national or ethnic origin, religious belief or sexual orientation".
In 2015, the imam at Halmstad mosque, Abu Muadh, said that homosexuality was a "virus" from which parents were obliged to protect their children.
The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights (RFSL), filed a legal complaint in October 2015. "[M]any people are listening [to the imam] and there is a risk that the opinions and other expressions of homophobia will spread among believers, as they attach great importance to their representatives' words", said Ulrika Westerlund, chairman of RFSL.
The Swedish legal establishment however, seemed entirely unconcerned; the imam was not prosecuted.
"[F]or something to be incitement, it needs to reach a certain level and in this context, the assessment is that this statement does not reach that level", said Martin Inglund, acting investigation officer at Halmstad police. He added that an assessment had been made based on freedom of religion, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. It took the police only one week to make the decision not to prosecute the imam.
"It is a strange decision, said Jonnié Jonsson, chairman of RFSL Halland, "I do not think anyone has the right to violate other people in the name of religion".
Then there is the recent case of Stefan Vestling, a local politician from the Sweden Democrat Party. He was recently prosecuted and convicted for "incitement against an ethnic group", when he wrote the following comment on the official Facebook page of the Sweden Democrats Party in Norberg in December 2014:
"Muslims who have ended up in the 'diaspora' are at war. A Muslim who lives in Sweden is thus living in a war zone, where it is allowed to rape a woman, as this is a Muslim right according to the Quran. [A Muslim] is allowed to have sex with women who have been conquered in war... that is to say the infidels' women (Quran Sura 4:3, 4:24). Easiest for 'Swedish' horny Muslims is of course to join ISIS where they can have their sick, devilish desires fully satisfied".The prosecutor failed to convince the district court that Vestling had committed a crime. "Freedom of expression includes the right to convey such information and opinions and ideas that offend shock or disturb" the court wrote in its ruling. However, at the Court of Appeals in Svea, in December 2016, the court found that Vestling's post had been offensive to Muslims. The appeals court seemingly had no problem with the first part of Vestling's post. It was the last sentence, "Easiest for 'Swedish' horny Muslims is of course to join ISIS where they can have their sick, devilish desires fully satisfied", which was considered to be in violation of the Penal Code. Vestling was handed a suspended jail sentence and a fine. He has appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court.
Both the statements made by Abu Muadh and the statements made by Stefan Vestling were offensive; yet the Swedish authorities ended up protecting the imam from legal repercussions, even though prosecuting him would send an important signal to other Muslim preachers who view homosexuality in a similar way. That they do has been documented by a Swedish-Muslim blogger, who wrote:
During my years as a Muslim, I have visited several Swedish mosques from north to south. In all the mosques, homophobia was the norm. I have heard worse things than "homosexuality is a virus." In no mosque, I repeat not one, have I come across teachings that tolerate homosexuality... The fact that the media act as if they were astonished [at Abu Muadh's statement] shows how little contact they have with Muslim environments in Sweden. For those who have been on the "inside", who have visited mosques and spent time with Muslims who are active in the mosques, the imam's views [sound] completely mainstream.Swedish experts largely consider Abu Muadh a radical, who moves in Salafist circles and has encouraged jihad, glorifying martyrdom in the battle to spread Islam. In a video clip on YouTube, he urges people who have "sinned" to wage jihad to be forgiven by God. In an interview with Hallandsposten in June 2016, he said that Muslims should not befriend unbelievers. He has argued that Muslims must not emulate the dress and haircuts of "kuffars" (infidels) and has declared 95% of all TV programs "haram" (forbidden).
In Sweden, comments that object to sexual violence against women in the Quran are prosecuted, but calling homosexuality a "virus" is fine.
Homosexuals are not the only ones to find themselves among those groups that Swedish society apparently no longer count as minorities worthy of protection. Anti-Semitism has become so socially acceptable in Sweden that anti-Semites can get away with anything, and no one even notices, as Nima Gholam Ali Pour reports. One of Sweden's main news outlets, in fact, described antisemitism as simply a different opinion. Clearly, neither homosexuals nor Jews count for much in the eyes of Swedish authorities.
In addition, Swedish authorities give large sums of money to organizations that invite hate preachers who support terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al Qaeda.
The Gothenburg-based nonprofit organization, Swedish Federation of Muslims (SFM,) was handed a government subsidy of 535,200 SEK [$60,000] in 2016. This is in addition to 150,000 SEK [$17,000] that SFM received from the city of Gothenburg.
SFM applied for the money "to combat Islamophobia", which the organization considers "one of the biggest problems in Sweden right now". One of the speakers SFM hired was Michael Skråmo, who has publicly called on his fellow Muslims to join ISIS. Now, calling himself Abdul Samad al Swedi, he has appeared in propaganda videos, posing with Kalashnikov assault rifles alongside his small children, outside Kobane in Syria. Abu Muadh is also a regular speaker.
Terror researcher Magnus Ranstorp said that he was surprised that SFM had been awarded state grants. "I see lots of question marks. We're talking about a group that invited hate preachers, whose Salafist orientation is in many ways the opposite of tolerance", he said. The decision to award SFM government subsidies also runs counter to the government's agreement with the four conservative Alliance parties that no public money should go to advocate violence.
What is the Swedish authorities' response to the official granting of money to organizations that host extremists? "Of course this is serious, and it is our view that this must be factored into future contribution assessments", said Daniel Norlander, chief secretary of the National Authority Against Violent Extremism. The authority apparently does not think that the money should be returned or that there should be any sanctions. After all, we are only talking about preachers of violent jihad.
Judith Bergman is a writer, columnist, lawyer and political analyst.