Swedish envoy to Turkey: Criticizing ISIL does not equal Islamophobia

Swedish envoy to Turkey: Criticizing ISIL does not equal Islamophobia

Emine Kart ANKARA
Swedish envoy to Turkey: Criticizing ISIL does not equal Islamophobia

‘You cannot define a very legitimate criticism of ISIL as Islamophobia,’ Swedish Ambassador to Ankara Lars Wahlund tells the Hürriyet Daily News.

Nobody should stigmatize all Muslims for the crimes committed by fundamentalists, yet nobody should label criticism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its methods as Islamophobia either, Sweden’s top diplomat based in Ankara has said.

“We have to strike a balance. We should really be careful in order not to stigmatize the Muslim population in Europe as a whole, collectively,” Swedish Ambassador Lars Wahlund told the Hürriyet Daily News on Jan. 20.

“On the other hand, criticizing ISIL, their methods and what they are doing, that is being seen as Islamophobia. But you cannot define a very legitimate criticism of ISIL as Islamophobia,” Wahlund added.

“There has been a tendency in the European debate [to assume that] when one criticizes ISIL, he is assumed to be criticizing Islam. But we must not stigmatize all Muslims because of what ISIL has done. And I think that we must focus on both sides of the debate: We have to be able to do our best to avoid Islamophobia, as we also have to call a spade a spade and criticize what ISIL is doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, speaking as the ambassador of a country that is widely considered as a haven for freedom of the press, Wahlund said he believed that daily Cumhuriyet's recent printing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons was "not offensive.”

“According to my understanding, while reprinting Charlie Hebdo, they even took away the first page of Charlie Hebdo, which could be seen as offensive by pious Muslims. I think freedom of speech is not unlimited and I think Cumhuriyet, in that respect, tried to be considerate,” he added.

Sweden has strong legal protections for press freedom under the Freedom of the Press Law dating back to 1766, as well as the 1991 Fundamental Law of Freedom of Expression. However, these laws criminalize expression considered to be hate speech and prohibit threats or expressions of contempt directed against a group or member of a group.

On Jan. 14, Cumhuriyet printed a selection of cartoons and articles in a show of solidarity with Charlie Hebdo. The four-page pullout did not feature the satirical weekly’s controversial cover depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Last week, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in Istanbul launched an investigation into two columnists who featured Charlie Hebdo’s cover with the image of the Prophet Muhammad in their pieces.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Çetinkaya, both writing for Cumhuriyet, violated laws against “inciting hatred and enmity” and “insulting religious values.”

The prosecutors’ move on Jan. 15 came hours after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said his government would not permit “insults to our prophet.”

“In Turkey, I think the overall reaction, without going into individuals, by the Turkish government was fairly good,” Wahlund said, while underlining the importance he attaches to the fact that Davutoğlu attended the rally in Paris in support of France following the killings at Charlie Hebdo.

“Of course we, the EU, are worried about developments in freedom of the press [in Turkey], which we think is an essential part of a democratic society. We are concerned about the pressure against the press here,” he also added.

Noting that he hasn’t seen related statements by Davutoğlu in detail, Wahlund said he could only echo what the latest EU progress report on Turkey said on the state of affairs surrounding freedom of the press in the country.

Cumhuriyet’s move to print a selection of Charlie Hebdo caricatures has “nothing to do with freedom of expression,” Davutoğlu said on Jan. 15, adding that the move was “a provocation.”