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OPINION: Macron’s vow to ‘piss off’ unvaxxed was deliberate and won’t hurt his election chances

French president Emmanuel Macron has been making headlines around the world with his strong language about those who refuse the Covid vaccine - but will this really damage his chances of being re-elected, asks John Lichfield?

Emmanuel Macron
President Emmanuel Macron in passionate mode. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that he wanted to emmerder (piss off) the non-vaccinated.

Cue an explosion of fake anger amongst his opponents at his use of such disrespectful and unpresidential language. Has the President  “P**d off” more people than he intended?

I doubt it. Over 92 percent of eligible French are now first vaccinated and 90.5 percent double-jabbed.

The remaining 10 percent are an eclectic bunch of anti-vax obsessives or crazies, stubborn libertarians and a large group of over-80s who rarely leave home and (foolishly) don’t see any point in getting jabbed. Few of them, I suspect, are potential Macron voters.

Macron’s words were risky all the same. They were clearly not a spur-of-the-moment stumble. His reply to a nurse during a question and answer session with readers of Le Parisien was chatty and vulgar in style but lengthy and considered in content.

The nurse, who works in a clinic for the elderly, said that 85 percent of people occupying the acute care beds in her workplace were non-vaccinated. And yet, she said, urgent operations for vaccinated cancer patients were being postponed for lack of beds.

In reply Macron said the “worst enemies of democracy” were “lies and stupidity”. How could the government reduce the small minority of the non-vaccinated?

“By – and I’m sorry for putting it this way –  by p…ing them off even more,” Macron said. “I’m generally opposed to the French being p…d off. I complain all the time about administrative blockages. But when it comes to the non-vaccinated, I’m very keen to p… them off. So we’re going to do it, the end. That’s our strategy.”

New rules going through parliament – held up twice by opposition deputies, even though many of them support them – will turn the existing “health pass” into a “vaccine pass”. Only the vaccinated, and progressively only the booster-vaccinated, will have access to fun or travel.

READ ALSO What changes if France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

From January 15th, Macron told the nurse, the non-vaxxed would “no longer be able to go to restos or have a quick drink or coffee or go to the theatre or cinema…”

I don’t believe that Macron’s use of such direct, vulgar language was a spur-of-the-moment mistake.

It was a deliberate nod to the many millions of vaccinated French people who are already “p…d off” with the lies and obfuscations and of the unvaxxed – and by the violent language and actions of a small minority of this minority.

It was also intended as a trap for opposition politicians and  rival presidential candidates – a trap that many of them enthusiastically charged into. Macron, they protested, was “Trumpising” the language of French politics. He was acting like a “little dictator”.Maybe but above all he was “acting” – doing something.

Macron’s supporters had already accused his opponents of playing politics with a health crisis because they crassly used a parliamentary manoeuvre to cut short all-night debate on the new vaccine pass on Monday evening.

Now the Macronistes accuse the opposition – including the supposedly pro-vaccine pass centre-right candidate Valérie Pécressse – of using fake and sterile indignation  to court the votes of a minority of anti-vaxxers.

Yes, Macron’s language was a little crude, the Macronistes say. But it reflects an anger that many people share. If he speaks formally, he is accused of being out-of-touch. If he speaks colloquially, he is accused of being vulgar. He at least is doing something. The opposition is reduced to playing politics.

Factually, Macron has a point. According to the official figures, non-vaccinated people are 17 times more likely to end up in acute care  than the vaccinated.

In the week from December 13th to 19th, 1.5 per million completely vaccinated people were in acute care with Covid (all of them still Delta cases). The figure for the non-vaxxed was 26 in a million.

Could the government do more to get people vaccinated without coercing or insulting them? For most age groups, no. There is, however, a glaring weakness in Macron’s argument: the relatively poor rate of vaccination of the over 80s in France

Octogenarians and above are the age group most vulnerable to Covid, but in France they are the adult age group which is the least vaccinated. Only just over 90 percent have been double-vaxxed, compared to 98 percent of septuagenarians. They are of course also the age-group least affected by curbs on “fun” and travel. The government should be doing more to reach out to them.

But that is not the political risk that Macron was taking yesterday. The real risk was one that I have complained about before: Macron’s evident determination to campaign for re-election from within the walls of the Elysée Palace.

OPINION Macron won’t admit it, but he’s on the election trail

His language yesterday was not presidential. It was the language of someone who was electioneering rather than governing. He is not the first President to seek advantage by muddling the two roles. He is the first to do so when the country faces such an acute crisis.

Macon said in the Q&A yesterday that he was eager to run again but would wait until the health situation was clearer before he formally declared.

I think that Candidate Macron is already influencing the judgement of President Macron on the government’s largely wait-and-see response to the new Omicron wave of Covid.

He may get away with it. He may even benefit. But he could pay a big electoral price if the acute care and death figures spiral out of control in the next month.

 

Member comments

  1. Slightly confused. If , as John says, 26 in a million of the unvaccinated are receiving acute care in hospital, that equates , based on 5 million unvaccinated ,to 130 patients. So, either the figures are wrong or the unvaccinated are being scapegoated as they’re clearly not overloading the system.

      1. Not at all what he said but even if you’re right , 1750 out of 6000 ICU beds doesn’t tally with overload.or with the 70-80% figure so often bandied about. Facts to suit the narrative, rather than the other way round, seems to be the story of covid stats everywhere.

  2. Well, categorising every one of 5 million people as crazies, obsessives or foolish old people is an ‘Opinion’ for sure. Hardly qualifies as journalism however. Whatever ‘balance’ you might have attempted after that para was completely lost. Must be a great skill to wholly understand 5 million people so easily. Vaccinated, but very much dislike these aggressive unqualified attacks on fellow citizens.

    1. Well said! I wonder how many out of those unvaccinated have now cancelled their €4.99 per month subscription to the local!!

  3. Off he goes again! Lichfield and his generalisations. Crazies? Anti-vax obsessives? Stubborn libertarians?
    Give your head a wobble man and try writing something original.

  4. Really don’t understand why the local keeps wheeling out Lichfield with monotonous regularity to peddle his usual mix of complete tosh and lazy journalism.
    For your information Mr Lichfield there are many thousands out here in the real world, from which you are obviously so far removed, who cannot be vaccinated for absolutely genuine medical reasons.
    My wife suffers from a conditions which necessitates her taking immuno-suppressant drugs. Her specialists, therefore have no idea what the effect of being vaccinated with drugs which have not been fully tested and only have Emergency Use Clearance, might be on her artificially suppressed immune system.
    I for one object to her and many other in similar situations being casually branded as “anti-vax obsessives, crazies or stubborn libertarians. She is only 55 years of age by the way.
    Please Local find a new opinion writer, the current one is well past his use by date!

  5. My 74 year old wife ended up in the hospital for four days after her second shot of Pfizer. According to the doctor who treated her she got very close to permanent damage to her digestive system. Why should she be forced to take the booster shot? The doctor and a number of colleagues have seen a number of similar cases. It’s a fact that the new vaccines where developed in a rush. Why should my wife be forced to take the booster shot? Older people normally don’t go to nightclubs or other events packed with people. Why doesn’t the government consider that there are people that don’t tolerate the vaccine?

    1. Just get an exemption certificate from your doctor. My cleaner has one, it’s no big deal. What’s so hard to understand. You may not go to large events but may come into contact with people who have or do.

  6. For heaven’s sake, he was expressing an opinion, which he is entitled to do. Just get vaccinated, it’s no big deal, or just get an exemption certificate. Why make such a big deal of it. So there’s a very small percentage that have an adverse reaction to the vaccine, that’s normal where mass vaccination is concerned and just life.

    1. Apparently getting an exemption in France is dependent on taking the first dose! For the immunocompromised like myself who are already not well this amounts to a game of medical Russian roulette.

      Telling ppl you will ‘cover them in excrement’ because they make their own choices about their own bodies speaks for itself.

      A product which clearly doesn’t work – and is now on the 4th try is also not convincing for those who are still deciding.

      1. You have been given the wrong information. Your doctor will give you an exemption certificate if you thinks you are eligible

        1. This information is on the French government website. The criteria is based on certain ingredients or reactions as I stated to the first dose.

          My doctor told me to go to the hospital where other ppl will test me and decide on an exemption. However those others cannot say with certainty that the ingredients are safe for me personally or in fact for anyone else.

          1. You’re absolutely correct and I doubt if Boggy has a cleaner , let alone one with an exemption certificate.

          2. You don’t know what I have. I’m just stating a fact and my opinion about a subject that affects everyone in France, including you British.

    2. Exactly, and its THEIR life, not yours, so you have no right whatsoever to try and dictate otherwise.

  7. To The Local : Please don’t invite comments and then randomly delete posts without explanation. It makes the subsequent posts meaningless. The order of posting also appears to be randomly re-shuffled for no apparent reason.

  8. I appreciate The Local and find its articles on living in France very useful. I’m happy to pay my subscription. But I very much dislike their forays into political commentary. It sometimes feels like the Anglophile branch of the Macron Appreciation Society.

    John Lichfield’s way of writing in particular comes across as patronising. He seems to think the readers of The Local are all slightly stupid, as if we don’t read anything about politics other than on this website, and that he can therefore hand us his own biased opinions as if they are fact…

    “The remaining 10 percent are an eclectic bunch of anti-vax obsessives or crazies” – seriously? Is that as good as the analysis of this situation gets? What about all the health workers, carers and others who have lost their jobs because they have looked at the risk-benefit analysis of the vaccine (as everyone should be doing) and decided that the risks outweigh the benefits… are they all just obsessives and crazies? He must be crazy himself if he seriously thinks so.

    Moreover, I feel he has – deliberately(?)- missed the elephant in the room. The really shocking thing that Macron said was not the ‘e’ word, but the fact that he doubts the unvaxxed can be called citizens of France –

    “When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.”

    What does this imply? An analysis of this comment would be far more interesting… but then that would be a bit awkward wouldn’t it…

  9. If Macron wants to scapegoat the unvaccinated for the current levels of infection he should look a little closer to home. Millions of vaccinated French were effectively and unknowingly unvaccinated because the booster campaign was delayed and then only offered after first 5 months from the 2nd vax, then 4 months and now 3 months. Some other countries boosted much earlier and the booster was immediately offered to everyone 3 months after their last vax.

  10. “Maybe but above all he was “acting” – doing something”… errr, no, precisely. He was just blah blah blah campaining. “Acting”, that would have meant, like his counterparts in Austria, Italy, Greece, to make vaccination compulsory across the board or above a certain age. But, oh no, that would have meant rubbing French retirees the wrong way. And retirees are a precious electoral bounty in France: they vote in droves, and 50/50 between Macron and Pécresse. Without their vote, Macron is toast: since they don’t abstain, those he would lose would turn to Pécresse, Macron’s only obstacle towards re-election. So, “emmerder” is cheap, “acting” is riskier. Hence lots of talk talk talk, no action.
    .

  11. Quote: ‘The remaining 10 percent are an eclectic bunch of anti-vax obsessives or crazies, stubborn libertarians and a large group of over-80s who rarely leave home and (foolishly) don’t see any point in getting jabbed. Few of them, I suspect, are potential Macron voters.’

    Really, John Litchfield?
    Seems to me your intolerance and indifference clouds your objectivism. I’m neither an anti-vax obsessive, nor any from that list you pen. I’m an individual who prefers to think critically and make informed decisions.

    Israeli studies have clearly shown that natural immunity creates a markedly longer and more robust protection from reinfection than from the vaccine. Where is this study in the media? It’s not, because it’s not part of the politically crafted narrative.

    I live with a French family who are double vaccinated and contracted Covid from others who were double vaccinated. I’m not vaccinated. I didn’t give it to them. But they could have given it to me. Funny how this flies in the face of the hateful and divisive rhetoric spewed from on high (something, John, that you probably enjoy). So maybe we should start blaming the double vaccinated from endangering those who aren’t? Just saying.

    It’s extremely difficult to separate the politics from the science. But if we could, we would see a very different story, but one that doesn’t yield much dividends for big pharma. Follow the money.

    Almost ninety percent of the French population are double vaccinated. They are the ones frequenting the bars, restaurants, cafes, public gatherings, etc. Yet Covid cases are soaring. And it’s because of the unvaccinated? Really. I’m shit at Math, but I can figure that one out.

    It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.

    1. Actually, the studies done by Israel are always reported in mainstream media and are critically evaluated. They are important information, since Israel has always been ahead of all other countries regarding infections and vaccinations. So your observation that they are not being reported is false. Do you think maybe you have preconceptions that lead you to believe this?

      Secondly, the study you mention is relevant only to Delta variant, and it shows that natural immunity+1 jab is the most effective at “preventing” contagion. This information has been around for a long time now. However, there are other smaller studies that show two jabs are more effective at mitigating symptoms. All these information must be understood together, and with a grain of salt. There are a lot of things that we still don’t understand, and the situation is constantly evolving, making it hard to compare and contrast.

      Third, the surge in case number must always be understood in context. Omicron is a very different virus from the original back in January 2020, and is considerably different from Delta as well. This does not mean the vaccine is not working, or that it exempts the non-vaccinated. We know that non-vaccinated people are more likely to catch and spread the virus, regardless of which variant. If there are a lot of spreading amongst the vaccinated, that means there is even more amongst the unvaccinated.

      Finally, the number rising in itself is not of the most concern. It is the result from it, which would be direct deaths, long-covid, over-extended hospitals and the secondary effects from that, as well as shortages of workers, economic and psychological impact, etc. The case for vaccination is that so far, this is the only thing that we have that can counter all of those negative effects. We know this, and you know this. It is not 100%, but it gives us the best chance to fight it, and when some people do not participate in it, it of course makes it less effective, hence prolonging the dire circumstance, and creating further needless deaths and other negative effects mentioned above.

      The double vaccinated should definitely continue to follow guidelines and restrictions, and making sure they don’t catch/pass it on to others, including to non-vaccinated. However, your reasoning that the “blaming” goes both ways is faulty. The vaccinated are taking all precautions and negative effects incurred onto those who choose not to take all precautions, is not the same as the negative effects of those who are deliberately ignoring scientific evidence to protect society at large, who do end up passing it on to the vaccinated/other non-vaccinated.

      That being said, I agree that blaming people without understanding where they come from is unconstructive. If the unvaccinated understand the risks they’re taking, and are trying to behave as responsibly as possible, that should be respected. The frustration is rather directed towards those who deny the efficacy of vaccines and cast doubt on the severity of Covid in order to justify them behaving like everything is normal, and not taking precautions. These people tend to be the ones who are amongst the unvaccinated, hence the author’s comment in this article. I’m sure you can understand the frustration.

      1. Let me reword. Such reports are seldom seen within the mainstream. They seem to take a backseat. Obviously it’s being reported, as this is how I am aware of what’s happening over there. Like 60 percent of double vaccinated in hospital. My observations are not false. There just not convenient.

        You say : ‘If there are a lot of spreading amongst the vaccinated, that means there is even more amongst the unvaccinated.’ That’s an assumption. I’m not vaccinated. I’ve tried to get it many times, but failed. Many times. While others who are, are passing it around. You can cite variants as building a convenient context, but it doesn’t wash. And it’s not my experience, nor the experience of many in the same situation.

        The Who, Fauci and others have reversed and flipflopped on so much of their so-called advice it’s embarrassing. And when big pharma are funding the research I see big red flags and a huge conflict of interest. Fauci once said that all we need is to reach av50 percent vaccination rate to flatten the curve. Yeah, right!

        It’s clear to me the efficacy of the vaccines is in question. And we don’t deny the severity of Covid. But put things in balance. Around 10,00 people in France die of the flu. Who are these people. Mostly elderly and those with pre-existing condition. So, yes, the flu is also very severe.

        Watch out everyone! Take the flu shot. Keep social distancing. Where masks. The flu is very contagious and DEADLY. Because it is. Funny how that’s politicized. You cherry pick. I look at the big picture. I compare and ask questions. I dig as much as possible. And I don’t like what I see.

        And please don’t assume the reason I’m denying the efficacy is because I’m in some kind of self-denial and behave like everything is normal. That’s not my reason at all. And it’s dishonest to assume such things on people without evidence. That’s just opinion.

        But be aware that it’s dangerous to deny people their basic freedoms. Once you surrender these, you seldom get them back. And the unvaccinated are being vilified. Democracy is under attack. And in a subtle way. Creating fear and blame is classic communist playbook mechanics. 5 million remain unvaccinated in France. Covid is out of control. Sorry, I don’t buy that it’s being circulating more among them. That’s just ridiculous, since most are denied access to those places opened and greatly frequented by the vaccinated.

        Like I said. I’m not vaccinated. Yet my French family were and got Covid. They were a danger to me. Not the other way around! So I’m not the problem. But in the prism of ignorance and media manipulation, I am.

        But at least we do agree on the name calling. And I respect your right to an opinion. Open dialogue is important.

        ok past the

        1. Do you have statistics of how often these “inconvenient” sources are cited by the mainstream media? One’s “experiences” and perceptions do not necessarily reflect the truth. I suggest you gather concrete data before believing, since you are clearly very proud of doing that right?

          Yes, I agree, we should not cherry pick and look at the big picture. Do you know the three most fatal infectious diseases in the world and the number of deaths they cause annually around the globe?

          1. Tuberculosis 1.5 million
          2. AIDS 700,000
          3. Malaria 450,000

          Do you know how many deaths were caused in 2020 by Covid? 3 million.
          And for reference, the flu is thought to cause around 250,000-500,000 deaths. So no, Covid is not comparable to the flu, and has surpassed Tuberculosis.

          Do you also know that France experienced the highest increase of rate of mortality in 2020 in 70 years? Feel free to verify these numbers and not take my word for it of course! The latter data was taken from INSEE.

          Yes, the government limiting freedom is always tricky, and need to be examined and watched closely. However, let me ask you what democracy means to you? Democracy and the liberty it defends is based on the idea that one’s own liberty ends where the other’s begins. This is why we are not free to murder others. Reciprocal coercion based on the idea of commonwealth is the foundation of democracy. When thought of it that way, one could argue that the fiercely non-vaccinated are the threat to democracy by forcing their own “rights” and “freedom” on the rest of the population, don’t you think? I’m not saying it’s as simple as that, and it’s actually a lot trickier. I’m just making this analogy in reference to how you simplified the issue. I think you and I both can agree that we shouldn’t simplify these complex issues, because it only furthers polarization, right?

          1. What’s next ? Euthanasia, forced sterilisation, organ harvesting – it has been done before and always dressed up as ‘for the greater good’. The worry is the slippery slope down which continental Europe has slid before.

          2. I’m not proud of doing anything. don’t assume. That never ends well.

            I only look at what’s happening around me, follow very closely medical experts, virologists, and epidemiologists who disagree with the main narrative. Who have been involved in this industry for years and have had years of experience and research behind them. Do you want their names?

            And I stay away from quack Facebook groups, so don’t include me with the flat earthers, either.

            And you want me to cite what!? Can you cite how many adverts there were between all episodes of Mr Bean between 1990 and 1995? Yeah, dumb request.

            All I know is what I see on TV and mainstream media. Not a lot. Very little. It’s applying with oranges with apples.

            It’s my experience, and the experience of many other in my social circle – and from both sides of the spectrum. But maybe that doesn’t square with your ‘data’?

            And where do you get your data from. One million deaths? Directly from Covid, or from other causes while infected with Covid.

            A government health spokesperson last year in Adelaide admitted on national TV that Covid death statistics were by default including those who died directly from other causes while also Covid positive.

            And if the slightest doubt existed, they counted it as a Covid death. I have the video saved. Straight from the horses mouth. On national TV in Australia. That’s not accurate data. That a markedly huge difference in reported cases.

            I’ve also spoken with a nurse who works in a hospital overly exaggerating the numbers. I could go on. Her testimony.

            I recently spent 7 hours in A&E in an inner-city hospital and saw no strain on the doctors and nursing staff there. In fact lots of empty beds and quiet as a church. Yet we are led to believe that the hospitals are at breaking point. Now maybe there’s a lot more patient influx as usual. I get that. But it’s the exaggerations and blatant dishonesty that infuriates me.

            Big Pharma are influencing the data. They have a financial interest to do so. The WHO’s second largest financial benefactor is Bill Gates. The same Bill Gates who did a Ted talk on the possibility of a coming virus. The same Bill Gates who bought massive shares in the Pfizer company before the pandemic.

            I always ask questions. Sure I’ve been wrong. We all have. We need to keep an open mind and I don’t dismiss everything as a conspiracy. But I’m neither naïve.

            And yes, Alan, I agree. It’s always dressed up as the greater good.
            Create the fear, manipulated them numbers, exaggerate the problem and create an enemy.

            But I guess my experience and research counts for nothing. Shall I get vaccinated and be a good responsible citizen? Don’t ask questions? Just do as I’m told or be banned from all freedoms?

            Did you know that now children from the age of five are recommended to be vaccinated? Really? *king ridiculous. I can hear the sound of money! No, don’t say that. Children need to be vaccinated. Their naturally high immunity and low risk is of no consequence. It’s for the greater good. Vaccinate. Vaccinate.

            Sorry. I do not comply.

            I can see through the smoke and mirrors.

            Like I said: It’s easier to fool people that convince them to be fooled.

      2. The obsession with vaccinations has now resulted in the crazy policy of the Government now allowing vaccinated but infected nurses and doctors to continue working in French hospitals whilst at the same time suspending unvaccinated and uninfected healthcare workers . Mad wouldn’t you say ?

  12. To change the subject slightly. I’ve seen a piece on aspirating while injecting. This is really interesting and makes a lot of sense. For those who have made an informed decision to vaccine (whose decision I respect), maybe ask for the syringe to be aspirated before injection. A study in North Korea has shown a link between Myocarditis in mice vaccinated intravenously as opposed to those injected intramuscularly.

    Aspiration, for those who don’t know, is when you pull back on the plunger to check for blood. If all clear, the vaccine is then administered. It’s been a standard practise among nurses for many years. It doesn’t cost anything and takes no time. When the mRNA is delivered into the muscle it teaches the cells to recognise the offending spike protein and to protect against it. If the solution is accidently delivered into the blood stream, that’s when the risks of vaccine injury seem to occur, as it circulates the entire body to places it’s not intended to go. For more info, check out:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsACTX0_ihs

    Interesting stuff and makes sense.

  13. What is missing from this analysis is a fundamental understanding of the French culture. The French people are passionate about the right to choose for yourself. Many, many of the protestors against mandatory vaccination had been themselves vaccinated and were protesting against the government taking away the right to choose. Macron is going to lose the votes of more than the “eclectic bunch of anti-vax obsessives or crazies, stubborn libertarians and a large group of over-80s who rarely leave home and (foolishly) don’t see any point in getting jabbed” as a result of this. By the way, attacking the straw man is unbecoming in journalism. Lift your game, Mr Lichfield.

  14. As from last Sunday, the Ministry of Health gave written instruction that Covid infected healthcare staff can carry on working in French hospitals. The obsession with vaccines has now resulted in the crazy situation where unvaccinated, uninfected healthcare workers are suspended whilst vaccinated, infected workers can carry on. The rest of the world is aghast at this really odd policy. But not apparently the French.

  15. Insulting the electorate never ends well as displayed by this weeks protestors retorting ‘we are going to p*** you off’.

    These kinds of childish vindictive and frankly menacing remarks about how ppl who disagree are not citizens any more finish political careers.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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