Minaret Controversy in Switzerland: What’s Behind?

Minaret Controversy in Switzerland: What’s Behind?
Guest Name Dr. Patrick  Haenni
Profession Author & Political Analyst
Subject Minaret Controversy in Switzerland: What’s Behind?
Date Wednesday,Nov 4 ,2009
Time Makkah
… 03:00…To… 15:00
… 00:00…To…12:00
Editor    – 
Answer Dear readers,
The session has just started and will go on till 12:00 GMT

Please feel free to join submit your questions now.

Abdullah    – 
Question How Muslims shall demand their rights of co-existing in Switzerland bearing in mind that Islam is not recognized yet as a religion on the legal level in most of the European countries including Switzerland?
Answer The problem in Switzerland is that the relation with religions is organized constitutionally at the level of the “cantons” (States). In other words, any demand should be addressed locally. The result is that any demand takes a long time to be resolved, such as the issue of special places for cemetaries, because the responses are always local as well.

But in terms of organization, despite the fact that Islam has not a status in terms of public law, all rights to form associations or foundations are guaranteed. The crucial point here is not really the law but the communication. Clearly there is still a lack of communication between Islamic leaders and the Swiss authorities, which is the responsability of both sides.

Ayman    – 
Question According to the latest report of ECRI on Switzerland the victims of discrimination are mainly Muslims and originate from the Balkans, Turkey and Africa. Can we consider the racism against Muslims or the Islamophobia the most important manifestation of racism in Switzerland?
Answer This is an important question. Faith-based discriminations in Switzerland are not the major problem. The people from the Balkans have a problem of a previously-saved image (stereotyping) not based on their religion (and not all of them are muslims of course) but on ethnic stereotypes: aggressiveness, violence, and so on; stereotypes that have no relation with Islam. The same applies to people from Africa.

The interesting point is that people from Arab origins are by far the more visible representatives of Islam in Switzerland, especially in the French areas, and racism is not a key issue for them because most of them are well integrated socially and professionally.

Racism is clearly class-based here. But there is a new tendancy, an ideological one, criticizing Islam as “a system” or as an “ideology”, this tendancy is beyond the minarets initiative but their claim is that their target is not a population, but an ideology. There is then a certain rupture between discrimination and islamophobia.

Sohaa    – 
Question Who are the initiators of this ban and what motives derive them?
Answer There are three actors and two motives.

The first one is a section, and only a section, of the right-wing anti-immigration party “Union Démocratique du Centre” (UDC).

The second one is a very marginal party, the Union Démocratique Fédérale (UDF), which is the political expression of the Swiss evangelists.

Finally, there is a loose network of intellectuals who mobilize themselves against Islam as a political ideology.

The motivations here are quite different. For the Evangelists, the relation to Islam is religious. Islam is a competitor and Switzerland should be defended as a Christian country. And, for some of them who are close to the Christian Zionists, Islam is a problem because it is considered as an anti-Israel ideology.

Secondly, you will find political actors backing the initiative from a secular standpoint: defending “laïcité” (secular society) against the danger of religions, whatever they are, represented now by Islam.

Musliman    – Switzerland
Question Do you think that if the ban was applied that the Swiss economy in general will be affected? If no, why?
Answer As you can imagine, one of the fears in Switzerland is that the country will face a Danish scenario, i.e., a broad Islamic movement against Denmark, leading to boycotts and destruction of embassies.

The striking fact in the Swiss case is the silence of the Muslim world.

Several reasons can explain this silence.

First of all the fact that journalists looking at the Swiss scene understand that the anti-minaret campaign was very marginal on the political level as all parties condemned the initiative, so did the government and all churches.

There are many non-Muslim Swiss citizens who acted against the initiative because it is opposing their vision of a pluralistic cultural country.

Second, the minarets do not enjoy the same level of sacredness that the person of Prophet Mohamed has. Also, banning minarets will not hinder Muslims to have mosques and pray in them.

It is importnat also to mention that even in the muslim world Salafis, for instance, have some suspicion on minaret as it appeared only lately as an expression of a religious tradition and not as an obligation of a religious dogma.

Angelina    – Netherlands
Profession teacher
Question How does the Swiss government see the growing number of Muslims in Switzerland? Is this related by any means to the initiative under debate?
Answer There is no link between the stance of the Swiss authorities and the initiative, basically because the governement vehemently opposed the initiative since the very begining. Not only because of fear of reactions from the Muslim World but also because the initiative is opposite to all the fundamentals of Switzerland’s political culture (political pluralism, religious pluralism, immigration).

And don’t forget that the growing number of Muslims in Switzerland was only possible because of some political decisions (encouraging labor migration from Muslim countries in the sixties and seventies, followed by accepting the family gathering in the eighties, then accepting political refugees in the nineties).

So clearly the Swiss official policies were during the last thirty years supporting this growth. Consequently, it is obvious that the political currents promoting the ban of minarets are strongly against those kinds of pro-immigration policies.

Elizabeth    – 
Profession housewife
Question Do you think that the building of minarets can affect the Swiss culture? Please tell me why there are no new mosques built in Switzerland since a long time.
Answer The real and only question related to minarets is: does the country accept the patrimonialization of islam; that is to say the inscription of islam in the architecture of the urban settings of the country?

But then comes the question of the degree of this patrimonialization. Up till now, we have four minarets, two of them built recently, two of them built in the 1960′ and 1970′ and very few Muslims call for the building of new ones. Prayer rooms continue to appear, but the need for minarets is very marginal among Muslim population in Switzerland.

Again, the minaret is just a means for political mobilization, not a strategy to address a real problem.

Rafael    – 
Question What inspired you to write this book, why in French, how did you tackle the issue of minarets in this book?
Answer Thanks for this personal question.

When the debate about minarets first started by the end of 2008 and there were some articles written about the issue, we (authors) were shocked with the “low level of the debate” and wanted to offer a depassionated perspective.

I was also coming back to Switzerland after living for 15 years in the Middle East. I was also personally struck of the main angle through which the issue is targeted. 15 years ago, the tensions around Islam in Europe where “real”, concerning the adaptation between a society and its newcomers. At that time, real Muslim-related dilemmas such as Muslim cemeteries, veils on passports, exemptions from sport classes for Muslim girls, were raised.

Now they are symbolic: only 4 minarets exist in Switzerland, 500 women wearing “burqa” in France. These are then not real social or political issues but ideological and demagogical movements.

Our book wanted to give to the voters keys to vote intelligently. So we accepted the terms of the debate and tried to address, one by one, the issues at stake by asking specialists, researchers and experts about their opinions.

So why in French, simply because it is my mother tongue and also because there was another similar project planned by scholars from the German part of Switzerland.

For those interested, non French speakers who know Arabic, a translation in Arabic is now ready and will soon be available for downloads on Islamonline’s website.

Yaman    – 
Question Are Swiss Muslim citizens fulfilling their obligations?
Answer This would need statistics that I don’t have right now. But in terms of voting, if you have a look at the average rate of voting for the Swiss people (which is very low), they will certainly be at any case fulfilling their duties as citizens.

No case was recorded with a big citizenship problem that is related to Islam.

Again, this is the main problem of this initiative: it gives the impression that there is a problem around Islam while basically there is NON: very few cases of radicalism, no “ghettos”, no real tensions at the local level.

Moreover, it should never be forgotten that the Muslim population increased in Switzerland from 17.000 people to around 400.000 in approximatively 40 years.

Fettah    – 
Question The campaign against the building of minarets includes a poster which depicts a female in a burqa, against the background of nine black minarets resembling nuclear missiles and piercing a Swiss flag. Can this controversial poster be branded as Islamophobic?
Answer It certainly is! And some of the promoters of the ban clearly accept to be classified as Islamophobics, as far as it is recognized that their “target” is Islam and not Muslims.

The use of the woman with her niqab is clearly a strategy to connect the Swiss situation to the French debate around the burqa.

The minarets can be considered as missiles but they are Ottoman minarets. The mosques are symbols of a “domination” of Islam over Switzerland. The idea that there is a war between the West and Islam and there are territories that have to be reconquered is permanent; the reference to the ghettos is connected to this “war of territories” concept.

So, how Islamophobia finds its way? As I believe, first of all through exageration. Any political body has to exagerate, but up to a certain point, the exageration becomes a way of xenophobia.

Secondly by linking the image of the niqab to Islam which gives the impression that “Islam” does not give another option to women but to wear that full-body coverage which is of course not the case.

At the end, those representations are radicalizing the relations between social groups and it is a real danger for social stability.

Editor    – 
Answer As the session has ended, IOL, Euro-Muslims zone would like to thank our guest for his estimated contribution and for his detailed enlightening answers to all our readers’ questions.

Dear readers, thank you very much for joining us during this LD session. You can view the whole dialogue by clicking Recent Sessions, or later on Archive.

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Euro-Muslims Desk
Marwa Hossam El-Din
Assistant Editor