Erdogan: Sweden Can’t Join NATO if Quran-Burning Is Allowed
Suzan Fraser and Jari Tanner, Associated Press, February 1, 2023
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed Wednesday that Turkey won’t allow Sweden to join the NATO military alliance as long as the Scandinavian country permits protests desecrating Islam’s holy book to take place.
Turkey, which had already been holding off approving Sweden and Finland’s membership in the Western military alliance, has been infuriated by a series of separate demonstrations in Stockholm. In one case a solitary anti-Islam activist burned the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy, while in an unconnected protest an effigy of Erdogan was hanged. Even before that, Ankara had been pressing Sweden and Finland to crack down on exiled members of Kurdish and other groups it sees as terrorists, and to allow arms sales to Turkey.
Turkey has indefinitely postponed a key meeting in Brussels that would have discussed the two Nordic countries’ NATO entry.
“Sweden, don’t even bother! As long as you allow my holy book, the Quran, to be burned and torn, and you do so together with your security forces, we will not say ‘yes’ to your entry into NATO,” Erdogan said in a speech to his ruling party’s legislators.
Swedish government officials have distanced themselves from the protests, including by a far-right anti-Islam activist who burned copies of the Quran in Stockholm and Copenhagen, Denmark, while also stressing that the demonstrations are protected by freedom of speech.
Sweden and neighboring Finland abandoned decades of nonalignment and applied to join NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified their accession, but unanimity is required.
In a television interview Wednesday, Erdogan suggested that Sweden needs to prevent Quran burning protests.
“Hate crimes against Muslims under the guise of freedom of expression are unacceptable. We expect that the beliefs of all groups are respected and sincere steps are taken in the fight against Islamophobia,” he told state broadcaster TRT.
In Finland, which has seen no anti-Turkish or anti-Islam demonstrations, violating religious peace is punishable by law, and desecrating a book held sacred by a religious community would likely violate that law. As a result, police wouldn’t allow a protest that involved burning the Quran.