How the Quran blocks NATO expansion

18-02-2023

Opinion

Jacob Hoekman, RD

Photo Corné van der Horst

Whoever says NATO thinks of a western military alliance against Russian threats. That is what NATO was created for, and today more than ever, countering that specific threat is the thing NATO is known for.

That makes all that is happening at the moment even more remarkable. As is well known, Sweden and Finland have been keen to join NATO since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But Sweden's accession, in particular, is difficult with one NATO member: Turkey. This is because Turkish President Erdogan wants Sweden first to extradite several people labelled terrorists in Turkey - something that happens relatively quickly in Turkey.

Us vs them

Journalist Jakob Hoekman researches history to find answers to difficult questions related to the news.

Another reason has recently been added: a Koran was deliberately burnt in Sweden. A far-right activist burned the holy book of Muslims at the Turkish embassy in Stockholm in late January. Something similar happened in the Netherlands: the leader of the anti-Islam organisation Pegida tore pages from the Koran.

These events caused quite a stir in the Middle East. As long as Sweden does not ban such things, it will not becoma a NATO member, Erdogan said last week. He garnered a lot of approval for it among his electorate. That was undoubtedly one of his intentions, as there are elections in Turkey in a few months, and the stakes are high for Erdogan.

The anger was compounded by what is seen as an unadulterated example of double standards in the Middle East: in the same week that a Koran was burnt in Sweden, Swedish authorities refused to allow a Swede of Arab origin to burn a Torah in front of the Israeli embassy.

Be that as it may, the burning of a Quran thus led to the remarkable situation of preventing the predominantly Western alliance of NATO from expanding. Whatever the founding fathers could have come up with, surely not that.

Hurt

Yet the anger over the Quran burning is not just political. Millions of Muslims feel deeply hurt when such a thing happens.

Why is that? The Islamic creed alone lifts a tip of the hat. Which reads, "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger." Muhammad is thus a messenger. A messenger in itself is not the most important thing, but his message is. What is Muhammad's message? That is the Quran. The Quran is what it is all about. That is the book of Allah; it is the words that can guide mankind on the right path. The majority of Muslims believe that the Quran is uncreated. It is the eternal word of God, which was always there and always will be.

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Far-right politician Rasmus Paludan in front of a mosque at Noerrebro in Copenhagen, Denmark, 27 January 2023, where he annonced he will burn a copy of the Koran. Photo EPA, Olafur Gestsson

Hence the impact when someone disrespects the Quran. A reaction follows regardless. This is true in many Muslim families, even if a child puts the Quran on the ground or puts something on top of the Quran - even if only a newspaper. The Quran must always be the most exalted book in the house, often even literally. The Quran is usually on the top shelf, so nothing goes above it.

When you look at a book that way, tearing up its pages or deliberately burning it is entire of a different order. It is the same as trying to humiliate and burn Allah Himself.

Reflex

Yet Christians rarely show the same reflex when someone similarly treats the Bible. Why is that? It is because two -literally- crucial differences can be identified. The first is that the Bible is not comparable to the Quran. As indicated, in Islamic theology, Muhammad is the messenger and the Qur'an the message. But in Christian theology? There it is the exact opposite. The Bible is the messenger. The prophecies, and the gospels, all refer to something else.

Because what is the message? That is not a book but a person. It is Christ, the Word of God, That became flesh. He is God's message in person. It is all about Him. So anyone who wants to compare the impact of a Koran burning to a Christian context should try to think what it would mean if people tried to humiliate and kill Christ.

Humiliation

And that is where the second difference comes in. Humiliate and kill Christ? That is precisely what happened to Him. Indeed, that is exactly what He came for. He willingly let it happen so that His Father's master plan could be carried out. That is the foolishness of the Gospel, as Paul calls it.

When Dutch politician Gert-Jan Segers and Marten de Vries wrote a book in 2012 with the somewhat provocative title "What Christians believe and Muslims do not understand", they meant first of all this. In Islamic theology, it is unthinkable that God would allow His prophet to be so humiliated.

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Supporters of Pakistan Markazi Muslim League party burn a Swedish flag during a protest against Sweden. Photo EPA, Bilawal Arbab

If that does happen, a reaction must follow. This already applies to the humiliation of the messenger, so certainly to the degradation of the message itself. To deliberately burn the Qur'an is to treat the holiest thing in the most unholy way. Punishment must follow that, if not by God himself, then by human hands.

What the punishment is for Sweden is clear. No joining NATO. At least, not now. And as long as Erdogan has an election to win in his own country, that is highly unlikely to change.

This article was translated by CNE.news and previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on February 13th, 2023.

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