Muslims rioted in six cities in Sweden over Easter weekend.
The riots began soon after a Danish-Swedish politician, Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Stram Kurs (“Hard Line”) political party, said he was going to light a Koran on fire last Thursday. His stated goal was to emphasize the right to free speech in Sweden and highlight the threat to freedom Islamists present in the country.
“I would be very happy if Swedes understand that there are hundreds of thousands of people living with a view of freedom of assembly and democracy that is completely different from what Swedes think,” he said to the newspaper Samnyett. “These hundreds of thousands of people will never ever accept freedom of speech, democracy and freedom of assembly.”
After Paludan appeared last Thursday in Jönköping, riots immediately followed. Paludan planned to demonstrate in the cities of Linköping and Norrköping later that day, but the events were canceled after Muslim protesters attacked the police and set cars on fire in those cities.
Subsequent riots took place over the next three days in Stockholm, Örebro, Landskrona and Malmö. In Malmö, a rioter threw a Molotov cocktail into a city bus.
The riots continued on Sunday, even after Paludan’s protests had come to a stop. Three rioters were shot by the police. In one video clip documenting the unrest, a participant is heard declaring that “We Muslims will set fire to the whole country because of our faith.”
The BBC reported on Sunday that at least “16 police officers were reported to have been injured and several police vehicles destroyed” in the unrest throughout the country.
National police chief Anders Thornburg stated that Paludan’s actions were protected by law, AFP reported.
“We live in a democratic society and one of the most important tasks of the police is to ensure that people can use their constitutionally protected rights to demonstrate and express their opinions,” he said. “The police do not get to choose who has this right, but must always intervene in case of violation.”
Prime Minister Magdalena Anderson also affirmed the importance of free speech in Sweden, “where people are allowed to express their opinions, whether they are in good or bad taste, that is part of our democracy.”
“No matter what you think, you must never resort to violence,” she said. “We will never accept it.”
Anderson also condemned Paludan’s actions, declaring the ensuing riots were “exactly the kind of violent reaction he wants to see. The very purpose is to incite people against each other.”
Member of parliament Adam Marttinen, part of the Sweden Democrat delegation, however criticized Andersson for being the cause of the problem.
“Magdalena Andersson is just as guilty as Stefan Löfven, Morgan Johansson, Fredrik Reinfeldt and others,” Marttinen said, naming prominent officials who played a role in allowing large numbers of immigrants into the country. “Xenophobia has been welcomed to our country through politically sanctioned immigration.”
Paludan, who has been expelled from Belgium, jailed in Denmark, and detained in France for his protests, said “I am 100 percent sure if I burned 100 Bibles and 100 Torahs, no Christian or Jew would threaten or attack me.”
Police were criticized for retreating from the fray during the first riots, with officials responding that they were outnumbered. Officials declared they will have increased presence in the riot affected areas for several more days.
Petra Stenkula, the local police chief responsible for Malmö, stated the department has about 10 investigators working to identify the perpetrators.
“We have extensive camera footage,” she said.
“These violent criminals are completely unreasonable,” she said, adding that in previous riots the police have been able to establish that there were people in the background who organized the disruption.
“The mob that attacked us was only out to hurt the police. They had no message, they were not counter-demonstrators but terrorists,” police officer Alexander Jeremic told Dagens Nyheter (DN), a paper published in Stockholm.
Jeremic told DN that there were “some good people” who tried to calm the crowd at the riot in the Stockholm neighborhood of Rinkeby, but that “it’s not easy to explain what democracy is to people who don’t want to understand.”
The rocks thrown at the police were like a hailstorm, Jeremic said.
“It was a mob driven by an aggressiveness that I had never experienced before,” he said. “I’ve worked at football derbies and their hooligans just want to meet and fight for a few seconds, then they split up. This was something completely different. It was like a battlefield with as many rocks as you can imagine,” he said.
While some rioters threw stones, others managed to pry open the door of one of the police buses where the driver was still sitting, Jeremic recounted.
“It was seconds before he would have been set on fire. They had surrounded the vehicle and eventually they bent the door up with some kind of crowbar. Then he drew his gun but he never fired. Then they threw something burning into the cab,” Jeremic said.
Between 15-20 warning shots were fired to try to stop the mob, Jeremic said. When asked if he feared for his life, the officer responded with “Absolutely. They were after us. If any police officer had been left on the lawn, I can guarantee that officer would be dead. Stoned to death. Especially when we would make advances and there were just big rocks hailing and people coming from behind and from the side.”
The people who attacked the police “cannot be called counter-demonstrators,” Jeremic said, because counter-demonstrators would have a message.
“But this group had no placards, no message,” he said. “There was nothing, they had no counter demands and Rasmus didn’t even show up. All I heard was religious shouting and a desire to create chaos. I would call them terrorists. They attacked the entire social system. Had they had other weapons they would have used them.”
Another police officer, Jonas Packalen, took to Facebook to voice his outrage over what he saw during the riots.
“The sick thing is that even women in their 40s and 60s are throwing stones at us, their own children are doing the same,” he wrote. “How the hell do you handle a situation like that? Throw a baton at a 12-year-old?”
Sweden has, with its very liberal immigration policy, seen the number of Muslims in the country increase substantially over the last 30 years. In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that Muslims comprised approximately eight percent of Sweden’s population and that this number could increase to 31 percent by 2050.
Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson, a member of the governing Social Democrats, the political party that allowed many immigrants into the country, has urged the rioters to “go home.”
Jimmie Åkesson, the party leader of the Sweden Democrats, which has expressed alarm about immigration, tweeted that the current situation is due to “a lax and naive policy” and that “today’s political leadership is not up to the task and must be replaced”.
The Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a protest with Sweden, declaring that the Koran burning “bears grave implications on Sweden’s relations with all Muslims.”
Riots continued in Rosengård, Malmö, on Sunday evening
Kent Ekeroth (@kentekeroth) is a former member of the Swedish Parliament with the Sweden Democrats. He currently is the CEO, columnist and documentary filmmaker for Samnytt, an independent newspaper in Sweden.