Malmö Koran riots: ‘I don’t think we will come back to normal’

The violent riots in Malmö over night on Friday prompted by videos of far-right protesters burning the Koran divided Muslims in the city, but there are fears the incidents will only deepen tensions, writes Richard Orange.

Malmö Koran riots: 'I don't think we will come back to normal'
A protestor holds a flare on Malmö's Amiralsgatan street. Photo: TT
The disorderly phalanx of young men and teenagers, many wearing face masks and hooded tops, starts to accelerate, excitement-rising, as it nears the row of police vans blocking off the troubled Malmö suburb of Rosengård.
“We're gonna fuck this system up because they want to let a man burn the Koran,” one of them yells as the group starts propelling jagged chunks of concrete and metal road barriers at the heavily armoured police. “We're gonna fuck the whole system up and we're gonna fuck the police.”
The ostensible reason for the riot is the video released earlier on Friday, showing a group of Danish far-right activists from Rasmus Paludan's Hard Line party burning a copy of the Koran in a nearby park. 
But many seemed more incensed by photos they believed showed police providing a protective ring to other activists who kicked a koran around the city's main square, using it like a football. 
Rioters holding street furniture, and the road covered with stones thrown at police. Photo: TT
For at least an hour, a young man dressed up in religious clothing circulates between the police and the rioters, begging the rioters to stop, telling them that they are shaming their religion. 
Among the spectators, it's clear that many, perhaps most, of the Muslims among them oppose the riot. 
“I don't like this they're fucking things up for our community here in Sweden because one Danish man burnt a Koran,” complains one man, who grew up in Malmö to Lebanese parents. “And this is what he wants. They want us to be like this. I've never seen this ever in my life. I'm shocked.” 
Another young man, blocked from returning to his home in Rosengård at the end of a 10-hour shift, struggles to contain his frustration. 
“This is just stupid, nothing good can come from this.” He points out at the stone-throwers. “If there's maybe 300-400 there, a maximum of five of them are Muslim. You know why? Because a real Muslim doesn't do this. All religions, not only Islam, are about peace, not this. This is only for idiots.” 
During pauses in the riot, police try to encourage the spectators to go home, taking brief moments to build public confidence. 
“I want to tell you that we are not happy, what you've done is protect an idiot,” one man told a policeman, pointing to a picture on his phone of police protecting anti-Islamic activists. 
“The police did not give them permission to do anything,” the officer responded to the small crowd gathered around him. “We arrested him as soon as a film came out on the internet showing that they had burnt a Koran, and we arrested several of them.” 
The policeman regretted that people were trying to “destroy our fine city.” 
“You should know that we think you should be able to express yourselves, that's totally OK. But not like they're doing it.” 
An armoured riot van blocking Malmö's Amiralsgatan street. Photo: 
Police held their position at the crossroad marking the dividing line between the troubled district of Rosengård and central Malmö, pushing the rioters back with a series of sudden charges. But they seemed to be minimising confrontation, rarely if ever using the gas sprays they are clasping. 
The police charges only serve to increase the excitement among the rioters.  
“Look at them, they can't fight back fire with fire, that doesn't work!” a young man, who calls himself 'the Somali pirate of Rosengård', hoots in a strong North-London accent. 
“I'm a Muslim and they're violating our civil rights by letting other people burn the Koran that we believe in and now we have to show that they can't do that. It's against us, so we're against them. That's how simple it is.” 
Police sheltering from a barrage of stones behind their vans and riot vans. Photo: TT
The apartments here are at the dividing line between Rosengård, where most residents have an immigrant background, and Sorgenfri, where the population is more mixed. 
Amar Mohsen, whose mother is Russian and whose father is Iraqi, says he fears the consequences of the Koran-burning and the reaction to it.  
“The politicians in Sweden say: 'It's a human right. Do what you want. You live in a free country. You can burn a Koran in front of mosque. It's not like that. It will affect many people. And I don't think we will come back as normal, I think we will be more divided.” 

Member comments

  1. All kinds of fools have opinions about “just” burnings of books or cities when it comes to religion. The far-right idiocy notwithstanding, religion fueled this one.

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US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success

The US criminologist behind the anti-gang strategy designed to reduce the number of shootings and explosions in Malmö has credited the city and its police for the "utterly pragmatic, very professional, very focused" way they have put his ideas into practice.

US criminologist lauds Malmö for anti-gang success
Johan Nilsson/TT

In an online seminar with Malmö mayor Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, David Kennedy, a professor at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said implementing his Group Violence Intervention (GVI) strategy had gone extremely smoothly in the city.

“What really stands out about the Malmö experience is contrary to most of the places we work,” he said. “They made their own assessment of their situation on the ground, they looked at the intervention logic, they decided it made sense, and then, in a very rapid, focused and business-like fashion, they figured out how to do the work.”

He said that this contrasted with police and other authorities in most cities who attempt to implement the strategy, who tend to end up “dragging their feet”, “having huge amounts of political infighting”, and coming up with reasons why their city is too different from other cities where the strategy has been a success.

Malmö’s Sluta Skjut (Stop Shooting) pilot scheme was extended to a three-year programme this January, after its launch in 2018 coincided with a reduction in the number of shootings and explosions in the city.

“We think it’s a good medicine for Malmö for breaking the negative trend that we had,” Malmö police chief Stefan Sintéus said, pointing to the fall from 65 shootings in 2017 to 20 in 2020, and in explosions from 62 in 2017 to 17 in 2020.

A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of shootings from 2017 to 2020. Graph: Malmö Police
A graph from Malmö police showing the reduction in the number of explosions in the city between 2017 and 2020. Graph: Malmö Police


In their second evaluation of the programme, published last month, Anna-Karin Ivert, Caroline Mellgren, and Karin Svanberg, three criminologists from Malmö University, reported that violent crime had declined significantly since the program came into force, and said that it was possible that the Sluta Skjut program was partly responsible, although it was difficult to judge exactly to what extent. 

The number of shootings had already started to decline before the scheme was launched, and in November 2019, Sweden’s national police launched Operation Rimfrost, a six-month crackdown on gang crime, which saw Malmö police reinforced by officers from across Sweden.

But Kennedy said he had “very little sympathy” for criminologists critical of the police’s decision to launch such a massive operation at the same time as Sluta Skjut, making it near impossible to evaluate the programme.

“Evaluation is there to improve public policy, public policy is not there to provide the basis for for sophisticated evaluation methodology,” he argued.

“When people with jobs to do, feel that they need to do things in the name of public safety, they should follow their professional, legal and moral judgement. Not doing something to save lives, because it’s going to create evaluation issues, I think, is simply privileging social science in a way that it doesn’t deserve.”

US criminologist David Kennedy partaking in the meeting. Photo: Richard Orange

Sluta Skjut has been based around so-called ‘call-ins’, in which known gang members on probation are asked to attend meetings, where law enforcement officials warn them that if shootings and explosions continue, they and the groups around them will be subject to intense focus from police.

At the same time, social workers and other actors in civil society offer help in leaving gang life.

Of the 250-300 young men who have been involved in the project, about 40 have been sent to prison, while 49 have joined Malmö’s ‘defector’ programme, which helps individuals leave gangs.

Kennedy warned not to focus too much on the number of those involved in the scheme who start to work with social services on leaving gang life.

“What we find in in practice is that most of the impact of this approach doesn’t come either because people go to prison or because they take services and leave gang life,” he said.

“Most of the impact comes from people simply putting their guns down and no longer being violent.”

“We think of the options as continuing to be extremely dangerous, or completely turning one’s life around. That’s not realistic in practice. Most of us don’t change that dramatically ever in our lives.”

He stressed the importance of informal social control in his method, reaching those who gang members love and respect, and encouraging them to put pressure on gang members to abstain from gun violence.

“We all care more about our mothers than we care about the police, and it turns out that if you can find the guy that this very high risk, very dangerous person respects – literally, you know, little old ladies will go up to him and get his attention and tell him to behave himself. And he will.”