Monday, December 07, 2009

The minaret ban ~ Switzerland's shame.

A sight you won't see in Switzerland - a new minaret.

The action of the far right Swiss People's Party (SVP) to call for a ban on the building of minarets in Switzerland was not originally seen as anything but a rather foolish attempt to cash in on Islamaphobia. Few commentators gave it much chance of getting support. But now Switzerland has seen more than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons vote in favour of the ban. The official government position was that it would harm Switzerland's image, particularly in the Muslim world.

The result of the referendum has created a major problem for the country. For the first time the campaign by the SVP has resulted in a rise in hate crimes against Muslims and even attacks on mosques. Martin Baltisser, the SVP's general secretary, says: "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power."

The Islamaphopobic campaign poster

Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said: "Concerns about Islamic fundamentalism have to be taken seriously. However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies." She was quick to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture".

Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims. This represents just 5% of the population and comprises many people of Balkan origin, most of whom are not mosque attendees. Though there are many prayer rooms in the country, Switzerland has just four minarets.

Harmony? A Swiss minaret and a steeple.

"The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets but the symbol sent by this vote. "Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community." - Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland

A Syrian-style minaret in Tangier

In the aftermath of the referendum, Switzerland has been criticised from within and without. A demonstration outside parliament, had people placing candles in front of a model of a minaret and making another minaret shape out of the candles themselves. They held up signs saying, "That is not my Switzerland,". "We're sorry," said another sign. A young woman pinned to her jacket a piece of paper saying, "Swiss passport for sale."

A beautiful minaret in Chefchaouen

The SVP campaigned unsuccessfully in previous years against immigrants with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports. But their success now is a dangerous sign of the fear of migrants and Islam in Europe. Sadly for Switzerland the result will damage investment, business and the image of the country abroad. It will also increase tension within the various communities. Geneva's main mosque was vandalized last Thursday when someone threw a pot of pink paint at the entrance. Earlier this month, a vehicle with a loudspeaker drove through the area imitating a muezzin's call to prayer, and vandals damaged a mosaic when they threw cobblestones at the building.

A typical Moroccan minaret

Sunday's surprise result also prompted anger and dismay from the Vatican to Iran and Egypt. In France, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was quick to react: "I am a bit shocked by this decision," Mr Kouchner told France's RTL radio on Monday. "It is an expression of intolerance and I detest intolerance.I hope the Swiss will reverse this decision quickly."

Sadly that does not seem likely.


This Cat's Abroad said...

t doesn't help matters much when you have the PM of Turkey - in theory a secular country - saying "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..." That smacks of politicization, no?

Anonymous said...

Hsuma, Switzerland, hsuma!

Piggy said...

Ban church spires also! It's silly - not what I would expect of the Swiss.

Alia said...

Thanks for the great article.

Jean-Luc Vautravers said...

The article is good. Mais la Suisse n'a à recevoir de leçon de démocratie de personne, me semble-t-il...

Tim said...

Maybe when Morocco allow's the building of new churches, especially Moroccan churches, then some tolerance in Switzerland might be expected.
I support their right as a sovereign nation NOT to allow the building of minarets, just as Morocco does not allow Moroccan Christians the freedom to eat during ramadan and build places of worship as well as foreign groups to build or add on to existing churches.
I think there's enough shame to go around... don't you??

Anonymous said...

To my mind the focus must remain on Switzerland, not Morocco or Iran or wherever. This is a new development which has already caused problems where none existed before. As a Swiss national I am ashamed. As a Swiss national I ask everyone to not visit Switzerland until this ban is removed.

Hans (Linz)

Jean-Luc Vautravers said...

Permettez que je réponse à mon compatriote Hans en français, langue nationale suisse. J'ignore si celui-ci a participé au scrutin. Pour ma part, j'ai voté non à l'initiative et je considère aussi que la question des minarets a été artificiellement exploitée, à des fins partisanes (UDC/SVP). J'espère que la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme invalidera l'initiative, ce qui aurait dû être fait avant que celle-ci ne soit soumise au peuple. Mais, en tant que Suisse, je crois qu'il est parfaitement faux de se montrer honteux ! Adopter une telle posture revient à se moquer purement et simplement de l'esprit démocratique. Et c'est honteux ! Quant aux mesures de rétorsion, elles me font rigoler. Faut-il dans le même esprit boycotter tous les pays qui ne sont pas démocratiques ? Ce serait prendre le risque de ne pas aller souvent en vacances...

Mary said...

I lived in Switzerland for 6 years and can affirm a deeply entrenched conservatism that permeates Swiss society and borders on xenophobia. It resembles the American right. Surrounded by their majestic mountains and allegedly neutral in 2 world wars, the Swiss are deliberately isolated from mainstream European culture. They voted twice against joining the EU.They were the last country in Europe to give women the vote. The minaret ban comes as no surprise.

Phil said...

Pleased to report that of the four cantons rejecting the move, three were French speaking and one half French speaking (although one other French speaking and one half French speaking canton voted for) Not that we get a vote anyway.

The fuss originally arose about a mosque being built in Germany, within sight of Switzerland.

Anonymous said...

and the next story on the page is...Seventeen arrested in Morocco for evangelising

In Saïdya on Friday, Oujda police arrested seventeen people, including foreigners, for holding an unauthorized public meeting aiming at spreading evangelism among the locals.

The police intervention, which is in accordance with the Moroccan laws, came following information on dubious actions related to evangelistic proselytizing.

An interior Ministry statement named the foreigners as two South African missionaries, a Guatemalan nabbed during this operation. The statement said that another Swiss man was arrested in Oujda along with two Moroccans.

Proselytizing materials, including books and CDs, were found while searching various premises. The arrested foreigners will be expelled after closing the probe, in conformity with the law related to the entry and stay of foreigners in Morocco.

Anonymous #2 said...

I think your last commentator missed the point. People breaking an already existing and well understood law is one thing. Bringing in a new discriminatory law is another. Morocco has no problem with other religions - only about evangelising. There are churches and cathedrals (and synagogues) throughout Morocco.