Officials in the Swedish city of Gavle wanted to send a message about who truly represents their community with a new billboard advertisement, and it’s getting a lot of attention.
In late February, the Gavle Municipality put up the billboard featuring Suzan Hindi, a local Muslim woman, wearing a hijab, but the message of inclusion and acceptance the sign was meant to invoke quickly turned into something else, Voice of Europe reports.
“It is true that the board was vandalized on Friday, and completely destroyed over the weekend,” Gavle communications director Johan Adolfsson told the news site.
“There have been lots of reactions to the advertisement,” he said. “People express that it’s wrong, that Islam is a threat and that there are big problems with the hijab.”
The most obvious objections came in the form of at least three bullet holes through the sign’s digital panels, along with a barrage of disapproving messages targeted at local officials. The vandalism was reported to police, Adolfsson said, noting the damage is directly related to the ad campaign.
“We select people who have been nominated by the residents to represent those who live in Gavle. Suzan Hindi is one of the 100 Gavle residents nominated for the campaign,” he said.
Adolfsson provided Voice of Europe with a few examples of the reactions coming in, including “What a f**king knucklehead you are” and “seek help dammit.” Others wrote “You have insulted the city’s original inhabitants, and descendants of those who once built Sweden” and “how the hell can you post this, you f**king asshole.”
“We received hundreds of emails and phone calls over the weekend,” Adolfsson told the news site. “It is unpleasant because the insults are directed towards me and Suzan Hindi personally.”
Sweden Democrats MP Roger Hedlund, a member of the municipality council, told the news site Nyheter Idag that while some locals view the billboard bearing the hijab-wearing Hindi as a representation of the community’s diversity, others view it as a reminder of how the Islamic religion suppresses woman’s freedoms.
“One should think what this is signaling. Some indeed use this garment, the hijab, voluntarily. But not everyone,” Hedlund said, according to RT.com. “This is a garment that for millions of women around the world represents a lack of freedom.”
The clash over the billboard is a symptom of the country’s much larger problems that came with a flood of Muslim immigrants over the last decade, and the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party, was quick to point out Hindi’s ties to a controversial imam who has been accused of preaching radical Islam and collecting money from terrorists in Iraq and Syria.
According to RT.com:
Indeed, in 2009 the woman, who called herself Nizam Hindi at the time, was featured in a story by the left-leaning tabloid Arbetarbladet about the opening of a mosque in Gavle. She explained how having their own prayer house was good for the Swedish municipality’s Muslim community, how aid from Saudi Arabia and Qatar helped to buy and furnish the building, and how listening to the imam is important during the prayer.
Gavle was also the location of a national scandal involving a Muslim love triangle that eventually led to the honor killing of a 23-year-old Afghan man over an extramarital affair, according to the news site.
Five defendants in that case received life sentences, while a sixth received 14 years in prison.
Regardless, Adolfsson told Voice of Europe the recent debacle with the sign won’t deter officials from carrying out the campaign touting the community’s diversity and inclusion.
“Absolutely not, everyone is welcome here,” he said.