Sweden’s Minister for Integration Nyamko Sabuni believes that the ongoing row surrounding a caricature of the Muslim prophet Muhammad will benefit the country’s integration process.
In her first public statement since the publication of Lars Vilks’s controversial sketch, Sabuni rejected calls for for limitations on freedom of speech.
By demanding a ban on the publication of certain inflammatory material, leading Muslim representatives have raised issues that are central to the experience of adapting to a new society, the minister said.
“Integration must of course take place within a democratic framework. Since freedom of speech is part of our democracy we are fully entitled to say, write and express whatever we want.
“I understand that some people feel they have been offended, and they have every right to protest. But to begin speaking about curtailing freedom of speech is a gigantic step and is not something I feel is relevant here,” said Sabuni.
Far from perceiving the prevailing tensions as a threat, the minister views the controversy as an important element in an inevitable process of adaptation .
“It is part of the dialogue that is necessary if we are to be able to develop and to gain an understanding and a sense of respect for each other,” she said.
On the international stage there were further angry reactions on Tuesday, with the Egyptian parliament’s foreign affairs committee labelling as “odious” the publication by Nerikes Allehanda of a cartoon of Islam’s prophet Muhammad as a dog .
Closer to home, the Swedish Muslim Federation announced that it was petitioning the Chancellor of Justice to prosecute the newspaper.
“It ridicules our religion. This is discriminating and insulting for us,” chairman Mahmoud Aldebe told the Associated Press.
“They want to see just how far they are able to go by pushing the boundaries of press freedom,” he added.
While the situation has grown somewhat calmer since the weekend, when Swedish flags were burned in Pakistan, the Swedish government is calling for increased vigilance at home and abroad. Sources close to the government have indicated that Sweden is set to remain on the alert for some time to come.
“The Danish experience shows that we can’t afford to drop our guard, as the situation can quickly flare up again.
“We can control developments ourselves to a certain point, but there are groups and individuals with a completely different agenda who are keen to use this to create conflict,” said one civil servant, who preferred to remain anonymous.