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Old Flame: Danish Quran and Bible Burner to Change History

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Fourty-two-year-old Danish man John Salvesen, who notoriously burned the Quran, is about to make history. Not only has his deed made the Danish authorities revive an ancient blasphemy clause for the first time in almost 50 years, but also triggered a debate, which may end in the abolishment of blasphemy laws altogether.

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In the future, it may become perfectly legal in Denmark to burn sacred scriptures, such as the Bible or the Quran, if the political majority loosens the blasphemy section, as expected — all because of John Salvesen's case.

Salvesen's case is truly historic, as it is only the fourth of its kind and the only one in modern Danish history. When John Salvesen made a Quran-burning video in his own garden on Christmas 2015, he hardly anticipated such a reaction. After uploading his video on an anti-Islamic public group on Facebook, he was questioned by the police and charged with racism, which was subsequently changed into blasphemy.

According to the current law, the destruction of items of worship may yield fines or imprisonment for up to four months. However, there are chances that Salvesen may go unpunished, since all Danish government parties and even opposition parties except the Social Democrats are expected to successfully eliminate the archaic blasphemy section in a Friday vote.

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Now that the blasphemy clause will most likely that probably become history, it is doubtful whether the criminal case against Salvesen will go on. His defense attorney Rasmus Paludan expects the case to be terminated.

"I think it's pretty nice. I've been looking forward to this for a year and a half. It's a ridiculous clause. In my case, I've burned a Quran. It's not blasphemy," John Salvesen told Danish Radio, arguing that he did it because it was a "hate manual." "I fail to see anything wrong with burning your own possessions if you so desire," he added. "We are concerned with being a country that has freedom of expression, but I have been exposed to my freedom being kidnapped or about to be kidnapped," John Salvesen said.

John Salvesen also admitted to have burned the Bible, which incidentally failed to bring the media's attention in the same way.

"I have burned the New Testament. It has only never been taken up and blown up," John Salvesen said.

Following the Quran burning, though, the reaction was overwhelming. Salvesen started to receive threats, whereupon he changed his Facebook account, address and telephone number.

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Denmark has a growing Muslim diaspora of about 5 percent of its population of 5.6 million. For Muslims, who believe the Quran to be written by the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, and dictated by God himself, damaging the holy book is highly offensive, as is depicting the Prophet.

Remarkably, the notorious 2005 cartoon controversy, stirred by Muhammad caricatures published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, led to riots across the Muslim world, yet failed to invoke blasphemy laws. A subsequent election campaign by the right-wing Danish People's Party featured a hand-drawn image of the Islamic prophet with caption "Freedom of speech is Danish, censorship is not."

Salvesen's case became thus only the fourth of its kind. Earlier instances of blasphemy cases include spreading Jewish blood libel, partaking in fake baptism and airing a song mocking Christianity on the radio.

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