SHARE
COPY LINK

TRADE

Arla closes Saudi factory after boycotts

Danish-Swedish dairy giant Arla Foods, targeted by boycotts in Muslim countries because of the publication in Denmark of cartoons deemed offensive to Islam, said Monday it had temporarily shut down production in Saudi Arabia.

“We had to close our large dairy in Riyadh because we are selling almost nothing in the country,” Arla Foods spokeswoman Astrid Gade Nielsen told AFP.

Arla Foods is Europe’s second-largest dairy company and the leading Danish exporter to Saudi Arabia, where it sells an estimated two billion Danish kroner (2.5 billion Swedish kronor) worth of products every year.

Muslim anger over the cartoons, which depicted the Prophet Mohammed and were published in a Danish newspaper in September, has snowballed into a diplomatic crisis threatening trade relations with Europe.

The row has taken a new dimension over the past days, with Danish flags being burnt, products being boycotted and Copenhagen starting to take measures to protect its citizens living in Muslim countries.

The caricatures, including a portrayal of the prophet wearing a time-bomb shaped turban, were published in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten last September and reprinted in a Norwegian magazine in January.

Islam considers images of the prophet blasphemous.

Officials in Muslim countries and various religious bodies have voiced their indignation over the cartoons, while the editors of the newspapers have retorted they were simply exerting their freedom of expression.

Arla Foods said its production staff has not been laid off and Arla Foods executives have not been recalled.

The company was to have begun construction next week on a new dairy, but those plans have been postponed due to the current situation.

The boycott of Danish products, including Arla Foods, that began last week in Saudi Arabia has now spread to Algeria, Bahrein, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, Arla Foods said.

AFP

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.

SHOW COMMENTS