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Quran burnings for freedom or money? – Middle East Monitor

Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee living in Stockholm, has recently been making headlines over his repeated acts of desecration of the Quran, causing a diplomatic row between many Muslim countries and Sweden.

Salwan Sabah Matti Momika has triggered a spate of criticism and condemnation from around the world, refusing to back down from provocative burnings of the Muslim holy book in front of symbolic places including embassies, mosques, and Sweden’s Parliament, the Riksdag.

Living in Sweden since 2018, the 37-year-old Momika, who calls himself as “liberal atheist,” has made himself known as an anti-Islamic firebrand.

His public burning of copies of the Quran, held under police protection, has also sparked criticism from Swedish officials and the government itself, with polls indicating that his actions do not enjoy the approval of most Swedes.

According to a poll by Swedish public broadcaster SVT, 53 per cent of Swedish people are against burnings of holy books, such as the Quran and the Bible, while 13 per cent were not sure.

READ: Arab world slams Quran burning in Sweden

In response to a question by Anadolu last Friday about whether the Nordic country planned on taking measures against such acts of public desecration, the Swedish Foreign Ministry reiterated its stance against these acts, calling them “offensive, disrespectful” and “a clear provocation”.

Early in August, Chris Allen, an expert in hate studies at the University of Leicester in the UK, told Anadolu that the aim of the Quran burnings in Europe was to provoke a response from Muslims.

Live streaming on TikTok

Momika’s case is not an exception as he not only burns a copy of the Quran during these acts, but also verbally insults Islam on a megaphone, while live-streaming the burnings on popular short-form video hosting platform, TikTok.

In an interview with Swedish news agency TT, Momika claimed his acts were of “philosophical gesture, not an act of hate”.

Though he could continue these provocative acts under “freedom of expression”, the live streams on TikTok generate an income that he claims “he doesn’t care about”.

Momika said donations can total up to 3,000 Swedish krones, equalling to some €250 (some $270) with each live-stream, raising questions about the motivation behind his Quran burnings.

Early in August, he was listed high in TikTok’s rankings for receiving the most “diamonds,” a way for viewers to send money to users for their content, having collected over 200,000 of them.

Following criticism, Momika has been blocked from profiting from his content, which was also confirmed by the social media platform’s officials.

From now on, users will not be able to use TikTok’s “gift” feature when interacting with videos posted by Momika, Radio Sweden reported on Tuesday.

Speaking to local media, Momika said he had no other income and that TikTok had turned off this income-generating feature.

Controversy also exists over his life in his native Iraq, as social media posts and videos have surfaced allegedly showing Momika in military clothing and associating with members of armed groups.

He allegedly founded a political party in Iraq, the Syriac Democratic Union Party, and its associated militia.

READ: Danish ultranationalists continue to desecrate Quran, burning Holy Book for 3rd day in a row

Other social media posts have claimed he is originally from the northern Iraqi region of Nineveh, and of Christian denomination.

The local Aftonbladet newspaper claimed he was convicted in 2021 for threatening an Eritrean asylum seeker with a knife while staying at accommodation housing for refugees.

Provocative acts of Quran burning in Sweden

Along with Denmark, Sweden has also met with wide-ranging criticism for permitting public desecration of the Quran under police protection.

Swedish-Danish politician, Rasmus Paludan, the leader of the far-right Stram Kurs (Hard Line) Party, has burned copies of the Quran in the Swedish cities of Malmo, Norrkoping, Jonkoping and Stockholm, including during Easter last year.

On 21 June, he burned a copy of the Quran outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden.

Momika made headlines a week later, when he burned a copy of the Muslim holy book outside a mosque in Stockholm during Eid Al-Adha, one of the major Islamic religious festivals celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

On 20 July, outside of the Iraqi Embassy in Sweden, he threw a copy of the Quran and the Iraqi flag on the ground and stomped on them, later burning a Quran outside of the Swedish Parliament on 31 July.

Iranian immigrant, Bahrami Marjan, held similar provocative acts in Angbybadet, an area near Stockholm, on 3 August.

Momika also staged another Quran burning outside the Iranian Embassy early in August, and another in front of the Stockholm Mosque last Thursday.

Though acknowledging that these acts hurt Sweden’s image and put security at risk, Momika is still able to get permission from the authorities.

Swedish security services have also said the country’s security situation has deteriorated after the ongoing Quran burnings.

READ: Sweden police arrest woman for attempting to stop Quran burning

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