Minarets’ Saga in Switzerland

By Dr. Ahmed Yousef

A call to Jihad is not the answer to banning minarets in Switzerland.  Even after the vote last positive results such as the reaffirmation of religious freedom may still emerge. In addition, the Swiss are educating themselves on Islam as interest in the controversy peaks. However, serious questions and challenges remain. How did Switzerland, reminiscent of a past era of anti-Semitism, come to target symbols of religious expression?
 
It may be a difficult Standard to expect Switzerland (home to an enlightened liberal democracy) to be both a neutral facilitator in the resolution of international conflict involving Muslims and to stay clear of Isamophobic tendencies in the safe confines of its own borders. However, Swiss mediated Palestinian-Israeli conciliation talks, for example, may very well be one of the many fall outs of the recent and controversial ban on minarets in Switzerland. Such a ban is viewed by Muslims as a serious contradiction between what is preached abroad and what is practiced at home.
 
It would be easy to make the arguments in favor of the ban for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and ultra nationalists; they played on fear and ignorance of Islam and Muslims. After all, Switzerland with its creative and proud inspiring democratic canton system is a way of life to protect and defend at all costs. The ban is nothing but a legitimate avenue to defend the values and norms of our enlightened liberalism against symbols of oppression such as the Burqa (veil) and those dreaded missile like minarets of Muslim mosques. If we do not place some limits on Muslims today Shariah law will be demanded by them tomorrow. These are seemingly legitimate arguments but for one problem; they are not true.
 
Islam is not inherently anti western, anti democratic or anti Swiss. Conservative Muslim practices and values are not symbols of oppression and mainstream Muslims do not seek the implementation of Shariah law in Europe. Furthermore, it is a huge misunderstanding if those calling for the referendum believe that Shariah is cutting off hands and imposing a rule of clerics. Islam is a way of life that transcends the simple rationale of the sacred and the profane. 
 
It can be argued that the referendum to ban minarets did not achieve an absolute majority and therefore does not reflect the sentiments of most Swiss; after all, the 57.5% who voted for the ban represented only 53% of eligible voters. However, it is lamentable that “Enlightened Liberal Europe”, and of all places, Switzerland with its unparalleled tradition of religious freedom, would be so susceptible to Islamophobia. That is to say that the result of the vote, generated by fears of extremism, targeted a non threatening symbol of religious worship thereby jeopardizing freedom of religion itself.
 
The Muslim world is in flux right now over issues of religious freedom and identity. Where given an opportunity to express their identity in democratic terms voters identify with Islam. This may seem scary to the West but certainly an enlightened, and democratically progressive, Switzerland can see an opportunity for dialogue and understanding. For example, Muslim concerns over the Judaization of Jerusalem and other Islamic sites should be of concern to Europe and the international community as well. When religious freedom is threatened in any place it is threatened in all places. Muslim majority nations, and Muslim minorities living in the west have a vested interest in dialogue and peaceful coexistence.
 
The Swiss in particular and Europe in general should realize that Muslims make up an integral part of the peoples of Europe. Islam has become a part of Europe and the largest religion after Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. Many Muslims are not immigrants but second and third generation citizens of their respective countries, and the overwhelming majority is loyal and law abiding. The ban exposes a deep rooted practice of double standards whereby Europe expects Muslim peoples and nations to measure up to enlightened European standards of democracy, human rights, civil rights and freedom of religion and yet when it comes to allowing Muslims to erect minarets they are prohibited. And the rationale is as faulty as equating church steeples with militant Christianity. 
 
Ultimately the ban on minarets is a more negative reflection on Swiss enlightenment, liberalism and democracy than it is an assault on Islam or Muslims. A positive outcome of this referendum would be a campaign by the government and the majority of Swiss to vigorously oppose Islamophobia as we denounce anti-Semitism. Then, Muslims would not feel obligated to boycott Swiss businesses and commerce.

Yes there are many challenges, complicated by years of history, and heightened by distinct religions, cultures and languages. However, it is the common human faults of lusting after power, greed, ignorance and intolerance that we all have to ultimately overcome together. Future earth threatening challenges such as climate change and natural disasters will not distinguish between easterner and westerner, Muslim and Christian or rich and poor.

– Dr. Ahmed Yousef is the Deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & former Political Advisor to the Prime Minister. He contributed this article to PalestinieChronicle.com.

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