Thursday, December 03, 2009


Earlier this week Switzerland, the world’s foremost neutral country, sidestepped impartiality by approving a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets. The referendum put forth by the powerful Swiss People’s Party (SVP), a traditionally conservative right wing party, was approved by a 57% majority. The SVP sponsored the ban claiming the construction of minarets represents the “creeping Islamization of Switzerland.” The ban was advertised through suggestively racist posters that juxtaposed a fully veiled woman in the foreground of what appear to be missile shaped minarets. Such xenophobic posters are nothing new from the SVP’s earlier campaigns to institute harsher immigration laws in the country.

The head of the SVP, Ulrich Schluer, argues that minarets are a symbol of the political aims of Islam. In an interview with Russia Today, Schluer contends that the “minaret is seen as a symbol for political attitudes, for political demands. For instance, to introduce step by step elements of the Shariah right, also in Switzerland.” He defends the ban by referring to various Imams and leaders of mosques, in Switzerland, that have openly stated their goal is for implementation of Shariah law. Rather than symbolize the spirituality of Islam, the minaret, historically used to initiate a call to prayer, is now perceived as a political icon. As a result, the future construction of minarets can be construed as a politically motivated objective to introduce other laws into Switzerland, specifically Shariah law.

There are an estimated 200 mosques in Switzerland. According to the Swiss government, most Muslims are former refugees from the Yugoslav wars waged during the 1990s and comprise approximately 6% or 400,000 of Switzerland’s 7.5 million citizens. The implications of such a ban are not only heartfelt by Swiss Muslims, but for Muslims all across Europe.

Fellow Europeans fear an extremist reaction within their own countries. Concerns have been raised over whether or not Sunday’s vote in Switzerland may provoke more anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. Will the ban in Switzerland promote passage of similar policies in neighboring countries? The European Union is already hard pressed in trying to preserve each countries distinct cultural allure amidst a large influx in foreigners. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the act, remarking on the widespread Islamaphobia afflicting Europe since France’s widely publicized dispute over the burqa, a full length covering worn by Muslim women. Supporters of the ban mentioned that Prime Minister Erdogan has in the past equated mosques to Islam's military barracks, referring to minarets as Islam’s bayonets.

Worldwide criticism over the ban has emerged from Pakistan and Indonesia, to the Vatican. Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey openly rebuked approval of the ban claiming it restricts religious freedom, while other financial officials in Zurich fear losing wealthy Arab and Muslim investors. The UN, along with other international rights organizations, has denounced the Swiss populist vote citing the government’s violation of international conventions on religious freedoms and individual human rights.

President Obama, notorious for having an open dialogue with the Muslim world, demonstrated by his land mark speech in Cairo not long ago, has yet to give any official response on the U.S. position towards Sunday’s vote in Switzerland.

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Anonymous Esperanza said...

Neutrality isn't always a good thing (ie: remaining neutral during the holocaust). Respecting individual human rights and freedom of religion however, thats an area in which I would have expected something more from Switzerland. Shame on them for playing to the beat of the exclusively-conservative, xenophobic agenda of those ill-intentioned in their country.

10:38 AM


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