Elham Asaad Buaras
Thousands of Swedes participated in anti-Islamophobia and anti-racism demonstrations in their country’s major cities on January 2 following three arson attacks on mosques. The crowds in Stockholm gathered outside the Royal Palace in the Old Town hold banners reading: “Don’t touch my mosque”.
Anti-Islamophbobia campaigner Yasin Ahmed said he was “surprised and thrilled” that so many people had turned out for the event.“They are not only attacks on mosques but also against Swedish democracy. I am a Swedish citizen first and I am also a Swedish Muslim seeking to protect my rights and to show solidarity with others to deal with this Islamophobia.”
There have been at least a dozen confirmed attacks on mosques in Sweden in the last year and a far larger number are believed to have gone unreported.Spokesman for Sweden’s Islamic Association (SIA), Mohammed Kharraki, said, “We want to send the message that these attacks on mosques… are a problem for all of society and not just Muslims.” “People are afraid, they fear for their safety,” added Kharraki.
“We’ve seen through history that people use violence as a way of polarising society against minorities.”
Culture and Democracy Minister, Alice Bah Kuhne, said that Sweden should still be seen as “a paradise” for immigrants from different nations despite the current tensions.
Police are searching for suspects linked to the third arson attack against a mosque in a week, which took place in Uppsala on January 1 amid growing tensions over the rise of a far right anti-immigration movement.
The mosque has since been covered in paper hearts from people pledging their support to Muslims.
“People saw a man throwing something burning at the building,” said a police spokesman, adding that the mosque in eastern Sweden did not catch fire and that the suspect had left behind “a text on the door expressing contempt for religion.” SIA posted a photo online of the main door of the mosque, which was emblazoned with the slogan “Go home Muslim shit”.
The attack in Sweden’s fourth-largest city came just three days after arson attack at a mosque in Eslöv in the south.On Christmas Day, five people were injured when a petrol bomb was thrown through the window of a mosque in Eskilstuna, west of the capital Stockholm.
Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven led condemnation of the latest attack. “The most important thing now is that everyone distances themselves from this,” he said.
“In Sweden no one should have to be afraid when they practice their religion,” he added, saying the government would increase funding for securing places of worship.
The attacks come as debate intensifies in Sweden over immigration and the integration of asylum seekers in the country, which is expected to receive more than 100,000 asylum applications this year, breaking all previous records.
The far right Sweden Democrats – which doubled its support to 13 percent in September elections – came close to bringing down the Social Democrat-Green Government in protest over the coalition’s liberal refugee policies. The Party’s support in opinion polls has risen to around 16 percent.
However in an eleventh hour accession on December 27, the Gvernment and centre right opposition parties bartered denying the Sweden Democrats influence over major policy – including over immigration.
Kharraki said the arson attacks could be carried out by “Sweden Democrats people who are angry because they’ve been pushed aside.”
“They think Muslims are the problem,” he said, while “mainstream political parties have taken a stand against racism and Islamophobia.”
A spokesman for the Sweden Democrats said there was no reason to consider the attacks to be politically motivated. “This is not political, it’s criminal. It’s criminals doing this and it’s a police matter, not a political question,” said Henrik Vinge.