A Swiss minaret ban echoes in Belgium, but why?

A Swiss minaret ban echoes in Belgium, but why?

A Flemish municipality, named Beringen, applied for installing speakers on the minarets of their Fatih mosque, a Turkish-Ottoman styled mosque and one of the biggest of Belgium. De Fatih mosque of Beringen is one of the few mosques with minarets -Flanders has about ten- and by installing speakers, the muezzin, who calls for prayer, would be heard into the streets. But if calling for prayer isn’t a new phenomenon in the province of Genk, where Beringen belongs to, why does it evoke controversy? Maybe Switzerland has something to do with it?

At the end of last month 57 percent of the Swiss people voted for a minaret ban in a binding referendum. The result provoked an outrage from different parts of the world. Countries from the Islamic world as well as European neighbors and the Vatican condemned the decision of the people of Switzerland, which in their eyes was known as a progressive country. They made it clear that by banning signs of Islamic presence, they had took a step back. But then why would those same condemning European neighbors want to put their own citizens to the test on how minaret-minded they are? To ease things down? I don’t think so.

French, Italians, Dutch people took the test and also Belgium had a survey on the matter. And I would have called victory if this had been some kind of mathematics test because we have actually beaten the Swiss. 57 percent of the Belgians don’t want Belgium to build mosques and 61 percent don’t want a mosque in their neighborhood. So with almost 60 percent supporting a similar minaret ban, we win?

Unfortunately, this is not a victory and neither is it a game. I must mention that this Belgian survey was held amongst only 1050 people and has a margin of error of 3 percent. I’m aware that there are Islamophobic and anti-Islamic feelings amongst our citizens but I don’t think the result of this survey is representative for Belgium. It just gives media an attractive headline after what happened in Switzerland.

These several European surveys and the minaret-dislike they suggest encourage some people to call for a minaret ban in own environments. Who else than Belgian right-wing politician, Filip de Winter, congratulated Switzerland with the results of their referendum en considers the country as “a symbol of resistance against foreign domination in Europe”. He even dares to call the Swiss results “a victory of common sense” and tuned it up a little with his usual “Islam doesn’t belong in Europe”.

De Winter therefore wanted to submit a proposal of Decree in the Flemish Parliament to put an end to the construction of mosques in Flanders under the claim that these buildings would damage the cultural identity of the environment.

Luckily he didn’t receive much support from other political parties. “Why would we want to import problems from Switzerland which would increase tensions between population groups here”, was their response to De Winter’s proposal. Why ban something that hasn’t formed a problem yet?

Although who knows what further reactions will be to the town of Beringen, after they’ve announced their wish to hang speakers on their minarets. As I mentioned earlier, a call for prayer isn’t new at this town, speakers are already present but they are submitted to the same rules on noise nuisance as there are with church bells, lawnmowers, parties, etc…They were not to make noise in the morning and at night so the call for prayer was a more symbolic one.

The Union of Mosques however has already stated that they don’t seek for a general installation of speakers and claim to be aware of the nuisance they might arise.

The city council wants to make a decision this week and this will depend on the police rules concerning nuisance and how many times a day they would let the muezzin call for prayer. Five times is most likely not a realistic demand.