The Swiss minaret ban is shaping up to be the most significant anti-jihad event in recent memory. Before it’s over, the reaction to the referendum by the “Muslim street” may well make the Motoon crisis look pale in comparison.
However, the Islamic response up to now has been muted and somewhat tentative. Switzerland, after all, is not as easy to kick around as Denmark. It’s not just a matter of whether to boycott cuckoo clocks and skiing vacations: numerous high-rolling oil sheikhs and terrorist emirs keep their ill-gotten booty in numbered Swiss bank accounts. Screwing around with Switzerland isn’t necessarily in their best interests, at least not at the moment.
So Muslim leaders are holding back a bit, presumably waiting for the ECHR or the UN to take care of the Swiss problem so they won’t have to.
The world’s political, academic, and media leaders have been all but unanimous in heaping opprobrium on the Swiss for their intolerance and xenophobia. But, while collecting the excerpts below, I noticed that the real reasons for Western anxiety almost never surface. The real issue isn’t intolerance or Islamophobia or racism or the need for multicultural harmony and the celebration of diversity.
The real concerns, at least for government bureaucrats and business owners, are:
How many cars and buildings will be burned every night because of this?
How violent and murderous will the Muslims actually get?
Officially-published opinions, however, reflect the international consensus distilled by the current wisdom. The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung neatly summed up the opinion of most of the West’s liberal elite:
“The referendum is a disaster for Switzerland. There is no such construction ban anywhere else in Europe. When those six words ‘the construction of minarets is prohibited’ are written into the Swiss constitution, they will breach that constitution in several ways, as they violate its guarantee of freedom of religion and the ban on discrimination.
“The ban also constitutes a flagrant breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It won’t take long before someone affected by this ban takes the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which will result in an embarrassing condemnation and possibly Switzerland’s expulsion from the Council of Europe.
“There will be a storm of outrage, especially in the Muslim world. The worst mistake now would be for Switzerland to react by stiffening its stance. Because in its heart, this country is cosmopolitan and liberal.”
And the equivocating “conservative” voices could hardly manage anything better:
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The conservative Die Welt writes:
“The Swiss decision gives the wrong answer to the right question. The question concerning all European societies is how to find the right way to deal with a growing Muslim minority, and where the limits of tolerance should be regarding the practice of traditions that are in some cases backward.
“The referendum has provided an excessively simplistic answer. It condemns the minaret which it interprets as a symbol of Islamic power — as if the traditional architectural feature so closely related to the Christian church steeple were more important than what is preached inside the mosques.
“It throws Switzerland back behind the level of enlightenment and tolerance that Europe has toiled to attain in the past — and which turned multi-ethnic Switzerland into such a successful model.
“The referendum shows how deep the fear of Islam runs in Europe and that the issue isn’t being taken seriously enough by the political elite — and not just in Switzerland. But it doesn’t provide a solution to Europe’s pressing integration problems.”
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
Many Muslims in Switzerland have integrated themselves well. The problems that do exist can’t be solved with a ban on minarets. But the Swiss People’s Party has succeeded in broadening the issue to Islamization. Existing problems with immigrants from Kosovo, for example, were simply combined with the religion issue.” [emphasis added]
Switzerland is not multi-ethnic in the same way that, say, Los Angeles is multi-ethnic. Ethnic Italians, Germans, and French have lived together without major friction for hundreds of years, sharing a civilization, a general European culture, and a religion.
Mass-importing Muslims into the country is not analogous, and those who use this argument are disingenuous.
“The problems that do exist can’t be solved with a ban on minarets.”
No, they can’t. Do the critics have any suggestions at all about how they can be solved?
And what about the EU reaction? According to ANSAmed:
“I shall explain to the EU that this was not a vote against the Muslim religion, but against minarets as buildings”. Switzerland’s Justice Minister, Evelyne Widmer Schlumpf, was speaking on her arrival at a meeting of EU interior and justice ministers.
The current presidency of the EU, Sweden, has expressed surprise and regret at the result of the Swiss referendum. On his arrival at the European Council, the country’s immigration minister, Tobias Billstrom, said he was “somewhat surprised” and found it “strange” that this kind of matter should be decided by referendum.
Sweden’s minister for integration, Nyamko Sabuki, went further, expressing “regret” that Switzerland should have decided such an issue in a referendum. “The Swiss system is a good one because it calls on its citizens to decide, but sometimes it can be used inappropriately, as has happened here”. “Europe does not have a minaret problem. There are no issues between Europeans and Moslems. Moslems are Europeans”, the Swedish minister underlined.
The Swiss Justice Minister also hopes that the ECHR will be able to undo the will of the Swiss people:
Widmer-Schlumpf noted that it was foreseeable that an appeal against the ban could be lodged with the European Court of Human Rights.
More from Al-Arabiya about European reactions:
“It’s an expression of quite a bit of prejudice and maybe even fear, but it is clear that it is a negative signal in every way, there’s no doubt about it,” said Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the European Union presidency.
Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, called the vote “an expression of intolerance and I detest intolerance.”
The Vatican joined Muslim leaders in expressing dismay after a referendum on Sunday voted for a constitutional ban on the construction of towers attached to mosques from where the faithful are traditionally called to prayer.
According to Swissinfo:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner appealed for the Swiss to go back on the decision, which he described as a “show of intolerance”. He said he was “a bit scandalised” by the ban, which amounted to “oppressing a religion”.
Sweden, holding the presidency of the European Union, also came out strongly against the result. Integration Minister Nyamko Sabuni said voting on the issue had been “an abuse of the Swiss voting system”, while the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt said it was a “display of prejudice and perhaps even of fear… at all levels a negative sign”.
Tobias Billström, the Swedish migration minister, added that it was rare to make such a decision by referendum, with issues such as building height or location usually the domain of town planners. The Austrian interior minister, Maria Fekter, agreed.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he was “greatly concerned” at the signal the vote sent to the Islamic world.
For Germany the outcome demonstrated that there was fear of Islamicisation, which needed to be “taken seriously”, said Wolfgang Bosbach, head of the German parliamentary internal affairs commission. But Christoph Steegmans, spokesman for the German Chancellery, said the government was “certain that freedom of religion was as important in Switzerland as it is to us”.
We’ll begin the official Islamic responses with Al-Arabiya:
Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa, the Egyptian government’s official interpreter of Islamic law, denounced the minaret ban as an “insult” to Muslims across the world.
And from Der Spiegel:
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Switzerland’s vote to ban the construction of minarets was a “sign of an increasing racist and fascist stance in Europe,” Turkish television Channel 7 reported on Tuesday. Islamophobia was a “crime against humanity,” just like anti-Semitism, Erdogan said.
The Turkish foreign ministry said the more than 100,000 Turkish immigrants living in Switzerland were worried about the decision which “runs counter to human values and basic freedoms.”
The OIC had plenty to say:
The Secretary General of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu voiced his disappointment and concern with the result of the public referendum which took place in Switzerland yesterday, 29th November 2009, on the initiative to ban building of minarets in the mosques in Switzerland.
He recalled that the UN Committee on Human Rights had clearly pronounced its concern on the ban as a discriminatory practice that violated fundamental human rights including the freedom of religion.
Secretary General Ihsanoglu expressed his deep regret that at a time when the Muslim world and Muslim societies around the world have been engaged in a struggle to fight extremism, the western societies are being hostage to extremists who exploit Islam as a scapegoat and a springboard to develop their own political agenda which in turn contributes to polarization and fragmentation in the societies.
The Secretary General urged the Swiss authorities to remain vigilant in addressing any move, which may fuel extremism, misunderstanding, misperception and intolerance among communities and that he remained confident that Swiss political leaders would not spare any effort to preserve the image of their country as guardian of the international human rights instruments.
As the Muslim public opinion is following the issue with concern, the Secretary General appealed to the Muslim societies to abide by peaceful and democratic means in expressing their views on the issue.
And the UN voiced its collective opinion:
UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, criticised the “clear discrimination towards the members of the Swiss Muslim community”, in a statement on Monday.
“I have serious concerns about the negative consequences of the outcome of this vote on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Swiss Muslim community,” she said, and called for Switzerland to take the necessary measures to protect the freedom of religion.
Meanwhile a spokesman for the UN High Commission for Human Rights also confirmed on Monday that legal experts were assessing whether the ban conformed to international law. The Commission will give its position on the outcome once the legal assessment is complete.
And also the Council of Europe:
The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly said the Swiss referendum outcome risked “promoting feelings of exclusion and deepening divisions” in society.
“The decision, although an expression of popular opinion, is a source of serious concern,” said Lluís Maria de Puig, president of the assembly, in a statement.
The non-official reaction from Muslims was swift and condemnatory, but not as strident as one might have expected:
Political and religious leaders of Muslim countries were quick to condemn the vote. Maskuri Abdillah, head of Indonesia’s biggest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, said the vote reflected “a hatred of Swiss people against Muslim communities.”
Egypt’s top cleric, Ali Gomaa, called the referendum an “insult” to Muslims, while the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the largest international Muslim group with 57 member states, called the vote a “recent example of growing anti-Islamic incitements in Europe by extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scare-mongering ultraright politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values.”
“It is a bad answer to a bad question,” Babacar Ba, the Geneva ambassador of the Islamic conference told Swiss journalists Monday. “I fear that this kind of thing is simply a gift to extremism and intolerance.”
And according to ANSAmed:
On the popular site for Islamic news Islamonline, the jurisconsult and rector of an Islamic university in the United States, Taha Alwani, polemically asked “why the Swiss are afraid of minarets but show not the least concern when they buy oil from Islamic countries, when their companies do business in Arab-Muslim capitals, or when they decide to hold Muslim money in their banks.” A thinly-veiled suggestion for a campaign to boycott Switzerland, but one which for the moment no one seems to be following.
“Today minarets, tomorrow mosques,” said Said Ardallah on an Al Jazeera forum. “With their money in Swiss banks Jews have the country in the palm of their hands,” added Ardallah.
From the The Local, the reactions of European Muslims:
Head of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) Kenan Kolat told Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung that the decision was “very regrettable,” adding that basic rights such as religious freedom should not be allowed to come to popular vote.
“A minaret belongs to a mosque,” Kolat said.
Meanwhile Islamic scholar Katajun Amipur told daily Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that the referendum threatened to spark Islamophobia throughout Europe.
“If this initiative triggers a dynamic in other European countries — and the danger is there — then the Muslims will have no place in Europe in the end,” she said.
The architect in charge of a controversial new Cologne mosque Paul Böhm called the decision “undemocratic” and “unintelligent.”
According to Al-Arabiya:
But Youssef Ibram sharply criticized the Swiss government for not intervening more forcefully in defense of religious freedom before the referendum got off the ground.
“The most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote. Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community,” he added.
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country’s top cleric, called the ban an “insult” to Muslims across the world but called on Muslims not to be provoked by the move. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was shocked by the decision which showed “intolerance.”
Muslims are, not surprisingly, insulted. And we know what they like to do when they’re insulted!
According to Asia News:
Elsewhere in the Muslim world, reactions are even stronger. For the grand mufti of Egypt, the result is an “insult” to Muslims around the world. “This proposal […] is not considered just an attack on freedom of beliefs, but also an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland,” Gomaa said.
Responses came in from Pakistan:
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani religious groups on Monday condemned a referendum in Switzerland that saw voters approve a ban on the construction of mosque minarets, calling it ‘extreme Islamophobia.’
And the Muslim Brotherhood weighed in:
Prohibiting the construction of minarets in Switzerland goes against all international customs, human rights, and freedom of religion. The statement was made to ANSA by Mehdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brothers, who commented on the result of yesterdays Swiss referendum. He emphasised that “All Europeans do not want Islams rebirth and growth. But Islam exists everywhere in Europe and in the world”.
The referendum was, naturally, racist:
Speaking in an interview on forces radio, Uriah Shavit, a researcher at Tel Aviv University and author of a book on Islam in Europe, stated: “This is a racist decision, perhaps the worst of its kind since the end of the Second World War… it is as if they had decided to cut all the ringlets out of the hair of religious Jews”.
Will there be a boycott?
One of its commentators [in the mass-circulation Blick newspaper of Zurich] notes that Swiss exporters will now have to beware, explaining that they exported goods worth SFr14.5 billion ($14.49 billion) last year to Muslim countries, seven per cent of total exports.
“After the ‘yes’ vote to the minaret initiative, there is now a fear of boycotts.”
Le Matin of Lausanne said the weekend vote had shown that for many people, Islam could be summed up by “extremists with beards, women wearing a burka and imams calling on the faithful to wage a holy war”.
Somehow the truth gets through, even when the MSM thinks it’s putting us racist xenophobes in our place.
The rest of world press lined up on the side of tolerance and multiculturalism:
“The irrational fear of Islam has struck once again in Europe,” said the French Libération newspaper in an editorial headed “Absurd”.
“The ban on minarets has cast a sudden pall on the image of a country which is used to the peaceful coexistence of religions,” it commented.
Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says the Swiss People’s Party — which backed the ban — managed to make a mountain out of a molehill. The paper points out that less than five per cent of the Swiss population are Muslim, and they are mostly well integrated. “Where difficulties with Muslims do exist, they can’t be solved by banning minarets.”
The Times newspaper of London deplores the vote and sees it as a blow against the principles on which European societies are built.
Britain’s Guardian newspaper writes of “an Alpine distrust of outsiders which lapsed into racism”.
Austria’s Kurier explains the vote in part by Switzerland’s ongoing dispute with Libya saying that some voters will have taken out their frustration with Moammar Gaddafi by voting to ban a symbol of the Muslim faith.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung describes the vote as one of “anger and frustration”, coming after the bank secrecy affair and the crisis with Libya…
There were a few small nuggets of common sense buried here and there among all the high-minded bombast. Even the Swiss Justice Minister had to admit that the supporters of the ban had a point:
While criticizing the ban, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf acknowledged that the result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies” that “have to be taken seriously.”
And a secular Swiss Muslim said:
“Switzerland welcomed us and we must respect their values,” said ‘Muhieddin’ in Zurich, adding that “I wonder whether Islam the-religion-of-tolerance would show itself such when there is a need to grant authorisation for the construction of new churches in Muslim countries.”
In Germany, Wolfgang Bosbach, a conservative Christian Democrat, voiced his opinion:
“But there are spectacular plans for large structures, such as in Cologne’s Ehrenfeld district or in Duisburg-Marxloh, for which there is a lot of resistance simply because of the size,” he told the paper.
Bosbach added that is “possible that some of these large buildings were planned to signal how strong Islam has become in Germany.”
And Bild says that Germans would likely vote to do the same thing if permitted:
But mass circulation Bild, which can claim to have its finger on the nation’s pulse more than other newspapers, said Germans would probably vote the same way if they were allowed a referendum on the issue:
“The minaret isn’t just the symbol of a religion but of a totally different culture. Large parts of the Islamic world don’t share our basic European values: the legacy of the Enlightenment, the equality of man and woman, the separation of church and state, a justice system independent of the Bible or the Koran and the refusal to impose one’s own beliefs on others with ‘fire and the sword.’ Another factor is likely to have influenced the Swiss vote: Nowhere is life made harder for Christians than in Islamic countries. Those who are intolerant themselves cannot expect unlimited tolerance from others.”
To cheer yourselves up, read about Geert Wilders’ reaction, which was no surprise:
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders followed the result by calling for the Netherlands to organise its own referendum on the issue, saying: “Whatever is possible in Switzerland could equally be done here.”
Ditto for Filip Dewinter:
“It’s a signal that they have to adapt to our way of life and not the other way around,” Filip Dewinter, a member of the Vlaams Belang party in Belgium, told Le Monde. Mr. Dewinter said he plans to pave the way for a minaret ban in Belgium soon; Geert Wilders, a prominent right-wing politician in the Netherlands, has called for a Swiss-style referendum there too.
The Lega Nord was inspired by the actions of the Swiss:
Northern League says Italy should follow in Swiss footsteps
(ANSA) — Rome, November 30 — A constitutional referendum to ban the building of Islamic minarets in Italy is soon to appear before parliament, Simplification Minister Roberto Calderoli announced on Monday.
Taking the lead from Switzerland, which drew widespread international criticism by passing its own anti-minaret referendum this weekend, Calderoli said it was time Italy affirm its Catholic roots.
And from Corriere della Sera:
“Once again, the Swiss have shown us what civilisation is all about”. Overjoyed by the Swiss right’s referendum victory, the Northern League have come up with a new proposal. “We need to take a stand against the Masonic, pro-Islamic ideology to which even our political allies are sadly prone”, said Roberto Castelli, a senior party figure. “In the forthcoming constitutional reform bill, I believe that the Northern League may, and indeed must, ask for the cross to be added to the Italian flag”, he added.
The Danish People’s Party was similarly encouraged:
The Danish People’s Party Leader Pia Kjærsgaard has congratulated Switzerland on the result of its weekend referendum in which a majority of 57.5 percent voted to ban minarets in the country.
“Outstanding that you can have referendums in which people can say what they think. On this issue, the Danish People’s Party will table a bill in Parliament so that we can have a referendum in Denmark too,” says Pia Kjærsgaard.
“We oppose plans for grand mosques in Denmark and believe that a large number of voters agree with us,” says Pia Kjærsgaard.
In all of these media reports and interviews, very few writers or commenters got down to the nitty-gritty and admitted what the real issue is. The issue is not intolerance, or racism, or xenophobia, or Islamophobia.
The real issue is FEAR.
Fear of what the Muslims will do to us if we don’t give them whatever they demand.
Fear of carbecues and street riots and assault and arson and rape and looting.
According to AFP:
Fears Grow Over Dangers of Swiss Minaret Vote
GENEVA — The Swiss foreign minister warned on Tuesday that a decision by voters in Switzerland to ban new mosque minarets could endanger security, amid stark warnings about a broader threat of extremism.
Opponents of the ban in Switzerland vowed to press ahead with legal challenges, while Turkey and the UN human rights chief delivered sharp rebukes over a broader and growing trend of European intolerance that they believe the vote revealed.
A “broader threat of extremism” means that the political elite are afraid that Muslims will commit acts of terrorism if they don’t get their minarets. That they will prove to be violent and intolerant and unwilling to act in accord with the norms of a civilized society.
In other words, the authorities are admitting that the supporters of the minaret ban are right to resist Islamization: Islam does not belong in Switzerland, because it cannot assimilate to the culture of its adopted home.
And the prime minister of Turkey is only too happy to underline this fact by providing a little reminder of the “tensions” that may arise if Muslims are thwarted in their aspirations:
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stressed that it “has irked not only the Islamic world, but also those who fear a clash of civilisations.”
He called on Europeans to act against the ban “so as not to plunge the world, particularly Europe, into tensions.”
This is an obvious protection racket: “Nice little cuckoo clock factory you got yourself there, Heinz. Be a pity if anything happened to it.”
Now let’s see if the minaret ban can withstand the baleful gaze of the ECHR.
Thanks to C. Cantoni, Esther, Insubria, Steen, and TB for the tips.