|Muslims and Islamophobia|
|05 Dec 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com|
|Swiss Radicalization: A Sign of Things to Come?|
'Minaret ban reminiscent of wars of Middle Ages'
European rabbis condemn Swiss minaret ban
Religious Leaders Slam Swiss Minaret Ban
Minaret Ban - Muslim Scholars Urge Swiss Muslims to Remain Calm
Turkey regrets 'rise in Islamophobia'
Indonesia says Swiss minaret ban obstacle to interfaith harmony
Photo: Mosque in Aswan, Egypt, with minarets - Wikipedia
Swiss Radicalization: A Sign of Things to Come?
December 4, 2009
Nestle. The United Nations. Rolex. Secure Banking. Toblerone. Yodeling. William Tell. Cowbells. Neutrality. Rousseau. Alpine Skiing. Heidi.
These are a few of the things -- mostly pretty -- that come to mind when you say "Switzerland."
But now thanks to a recent popular vote on a controversial referendum, things like "intolerance," "paranoia," and "limitations on freedom of religion" have joined the merry list.
In case you have not heard already, 57% of Swiss voters approved a proposal Sunday to ban mosque minarets in a nationwide referendum sponsored by the Swiss People's Party (SVP), a right-wing group long known for its anti-immigration campaigns. A complacent Swiss government subsequently stated that it will "respect the decision" of the people and will affect the ban on all new minarets in the country.
2009-12-02-swiss_minaret.jpgThe SVP flooded the tiny landlocked Alpine state with posters in which minarets appeared as missiles rising from the Swiss flag. They told voters that "the minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls." This is not true of course.
Most Muslims accept the minaret as an architectural conduit for the call to prayer, but most do not seek political power, subscribe to the burqa, tolerate forced marriages, or accept genital mutilation of girls. Forced marriages and female circumcision happen mostly in poor, uneducated parts of the world and have no foundation in Islam. The burqa is worn by less than 1% of Muslim women. How these three things are "comparable" with a minaret must be Switzerland's dirty little secret because I cannot figure it out.
Yet by casting the minaret, a mainstream symbol of normative Islam, as some kind of Trojan horse bearing the Achilles heel that will vanquish Swiss political and cultural hegemony, the SVP seems to have petrified people into a knee-jerk acceptance of a draconian ban that amounts to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
While the ban has dismayed Muslims, it should also embarrass Switzerland whose polished image will likely take a major beating. The Swiss logic here is as arbitrary and nonsensical as if Dubai were to ban skyscrapers because they "represent American corporate greed which is partially to blame for the misguided war in Iraq." Imagine the scornful reaction around the world then.
Personally, I have vacationed in Switzerland many times. I have taken the famed glacier express from St. Moritz in the West to Zermatt in the East, climbed the Matterhorn in the Alps, enjoyed promenades in the Boulevards of Geneva, and walked among the rooftops of Zurich and Neuchatel. I found the Swiss to be generally pleasant (though somewhat aloof). It is beyond me why such a beautiful country would choose to take a turn for the ugly. Swiss Muslim Professor Tariq Ramadan says it is fear. Perhaps, but it is more than that. It is also cluelessness. Fear is not always such a bad thing; the Swiss had every right to fear the Nazis. But to ban an architectural form that scares you is a thing of prehistoric naiveté. Worse still, to be ignorant of what a minaret truly symbolizes -- to the tune of some 57% of voters -- signals that the wrong people are talking and a clueless majority are listening and following.
The minaret has been around, appropriated in the unique architectural traditions of every culture, for 14 centuries. Sure there are minarets that surround the Taliban, but minarets also surrounded the scholars, philosophers and scientists of Baghdad, Damascus, Tashkent, Seville, Toledo, and Cordoba whose body of work helped jumpstart Europe out of its dark age and into its renaissance. They surrounded and still surround the students of the oldest surviving university in the world, Al-Azhar of Cairo. They dot the skylines of cities from Casablanca to Brunei, and Istanbul to the Zanzibar, calling their peaceful residents only to God-consciousness. They adorn the four corners of what is widely considered to be the most beautiful man-made structure on earth, the Taj Mahal of India.
The short-sightedness of the anti-minaret campaign is fuelled by more than fear. It is fuelled by hate.
For as long as most people living today have been around, Europe has enjoyed a stint as a tolerant, liberal hub of multiculturalism, personal freedoms, and all-around prosperity. But suffer from historical amnesia at your own risk, for history has a ruthless tendency to repeat itself. Before we get too comfortable and fully let our guard down, we may do well to remember that it was not so long ago that the tame territory of delectable delights, chocolate, wine, and cheese was engulfed by fascist ideologies that were anything but. Indeed, it was only as recent as two generations ago that those nations, who today fancy themselves as the defenders of freedoms around the world, were the purveyors of extreme brands of racism, uber-nationalism, and imperialism that launched the world into two destructive global wars and history's most egregious genocide.
Given the burden of Europe's recent past, it is astonishing to note how readily Switzerland, itself a long-time haven of neutrality even during World War II (not exactly a great thing when you consider that human beings were being huddled into gas chambers North, West, and East), could teeter at the precipice of an eerily familiar abyss wherein citizens of a hapless religious minority are demonized and their rights freely limited.
Sadly Switzerland's minaret vote is not the only troubling omen facing Europeans today.
While the winds of fascism are not exactly sweeping over Europe as I write, a few unwelcome breezes seem to be intensifying and cannot be ignored. The other Semites, Muslims, are in the eye of the storm this time around -- Jews having borne the brunt of the last tempest. For Europe, "Never Again" seems to be a slogan for one religious minority at a time.
Let me be clear, the situation of Muslims in Europe today cannot be analogized to that of Jews 70 years ago. But those familiar with European history know that the zenith of 20th Century anti-Semitism was not born overnight. It evolved over time eventually reaching grotesque proportions. At first, a vanguard of voices claiming unique insight and expertise on Jewish affairs sought to "wake society up" to "know" and "confront" the nature of the threat festering in their midst. This involved columnists, preachers, politicians, and yes cartoonists. Jews were caste as the other, foreign implants who can never be fully European regardless of whether or not they were citizens working and living side by side with everyone else. Their religion was judged as too exotic, too sinister, an anti-European ideology that could not be trusted. Their history was recast into a carefully crafted narrative of perpetual anti-Christian mischief. At first, their religious rights were curbed, and then they were rendered second class citizens. Things quickly dwindled thereafter.
Today, I cannot help but wonder: had it not been for Germany's tolerance of the demonization of Jews in the early decades when it then seemed mundane and uneventful, would a crime as outlandish as the "final solution" ever have found the mass acceptance that it did further down the line?
Worth mentioning is that despite the lessons learned from the Holocaust, Europe's only indigenous Muslim minority could not itself escape genocide a few decades later -- the first and only genocide to occur on European soil since World War II.
So what about today's breezes of intolerance whisking through the continent?
In the United Kingdom, the far-right British Nationalist Party (BNP), a splinter group of the Whites-only British National Front (BNF) is experiencing a new surge. The far-right Dutch Party for Freedom, whose leader Geert Wilders advocates banning the Quran and curbing Muslim religious freedom, placed second in a recent election in the Netherlands. In France and Austria, far-right political groups spouting anti-Muslim rhetoric are also gaining ground. The SVP, the group behind the minaret ban and a poster campaign depicting white sheep kicking black sheep out of Switzerland, is now Switzerland's biggest political party. Reports show that racism is on the rise in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe. Astroturf groups that openly call for the demonization for Muslims such as ACT! for America, SANE, SIOA, and SIOE are becoming a dime a dozen. Vandalism of Muslim cemeteries and mosques and hate crimes are happening more frequently. In Germany, a Hijab-wearing woman was stabbed to death in front of her three-year-old child while seeking justice in a German court against the perpetrator who had hurled racist slurs at her in a public playground a few days earlier. Stephan Kramer, General Secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany subsequently deplored the "largely unchecked hate propaganda against Muslims." Throughout Europe, anti-Muslim rhetoric expressed in editorials, columns, campaign ads, hate blogs, and political cartoons is on the rise.
European leaders and intellectuals are rightly concerned about Muslim extremism and radicalization, but what are they doing to fight anti-Muslim extremism and radicalization? Is it even duly acknowledged?
Cynics often deflect attention by pointing out human rights abuses in the Middle East or Asia. The West is right to call out abuses of freedoms in the Muslim-majority world, but it is wrong to pursue a campaign of reciprocity that betrays its own principles as a response. Western Intellectuals are wrong to turn a blind eye to such a farce when it occurs.
The Swiss referendum raises an important question about the great conundrum of democracy: if a majority of voters opt for dictatorship, is the result a democracy or a dictatorship?
The answer lies in a simple concept: the constitution. The constitutions of democratic nations enshrine the principles of freedom and democracy and act as the final say on what future action can and cannot be done. A vote that betrays those principles is a vote that ought not to take place. In other words, a referendum that seeks to curb religious freedoms presumably protected by Swiss high law is itself unconstitutional and should not have been allowed in the first place.
Should the West choose to remain reactionary in how it deals with Muslim extremism -- real or perceived -- then it unwisely relinquishes its fate to the hands of terrorists who know that it would only then take a few more attacks to sink Western societies into self-defeating frenzy. Make no mistake about it, merely inflicting explosions that tear down towers of steel and glass is not terrorism's ultimate goal or greatest threat, being a catalyst for Western self-implosion is. While the West needs to remain vigilant against physical threats, it needs to know that its greatest weapon against ultimate defeat is holding steadfastly unto its principles of democracy, freedoms and equal citizenship.
Protecting and strengthening those traditions, integrating minorities as equals in society, and working academically to fight extremism, both Muslim and anti-Muslim, is our best assurance for future security and prosperity. Failing to do so spells the beginning of the end.
Minaret Ban - Iums Urges Swiss Muslims to Remain Calm
3 December 2009
The International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS) has received with shock and surprise the results of the Swiss referendum on the proposed amendment to Article 72 of the Swiss Constitution, to include a new clause banning the building of minarets.
As the results of the referendum show that 57.4% of voters approved of the amendment, it reveals a clear contradiction between the Swiss peoples' flaunting and boasting of democracy and religious freedom, and the racist and "Islamophobic" content of this referendum, which contradicts with all human rights constitutions and conventions, religious freedoms, and cultural diversity. Today, they ban minarets, and tomorrow they may ban the mosques themselves! What could prevent it as long as the racist right wing movement that is intolerant towards foreigners is leading this campaign! It is well known for all that minarets only constitute a signpost for the places of worship and that they have no other significance, whether political or otherwise. Rather, they represent a beautiful architectural symbol that is a witness to the country's tolerance and cultural and religious diversity.
Indeed, those who drew up such a resolution among narrow-minded right wing extremists have taken advantage of the nurtured fear from Muslims by warning of the alleged expansion of their religious demands in the Swiss state, and went as far as claiming that Muslims work for "Minarets today, and the application of Shari'ah tomorrow!" Well, this is sheer delusion and a flight of fancy. If most Muslim countries themselves do not apply Shari'ah, how can a sound minded person believe that people in Europe, who are mostly non-Muslims, would apply Shari'ah?
And though the current parliament and government did not approve of holding the referendum in the first place, and the church bishops opposed it, still the result of the referendum is disappointing for the Muslim minority living among the Swiss society who represent a bright example in their moral and humanitarian dealings through their integration, co-existence and openness towards all members of the Swiss society. Besides, such a result has thwarted all the expectations of Muslim minorities living in the West in general, and stirred their apprehension of such moves that could possibly be adopted by similar right-wing parties in other countries. Those right-wing parties, in turn, could follow similar steps as a means of applying more restrictions against Muslims in any European country, and exploit the Islamophobic environment that has intensified due to incessant instigation by the media machine that distorts the image of Islam and Muslims and portrays them in other than their true nature.
Likewise, this result has frustrated the expectations of all Muslims around the world, and we think it will lead to substantial revisions and raise questions about the feasibility of dialogue and rapprochement between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Islamic world in general, and especially in the West, since the status of some Muslim religious symbols and places of worship in this cultural environment have become susceptible to debates, laws and referendums every now and then! So, what is then the point of holding dialogue, if it enhances the stance of extremist elements among Muslims who say that the West with whom you call us to dialogue and cooperate hates you and chases you away!
Building on this painful reality and also on our responsibility towards these Muslim minorities, the IUMS maintains the following:
Turkey regrets 'rise in Islamophobia'
Dec 04 2009
by Gabriel Hershman
Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has expressed concern at the Swiss decision on November 29 to ban the building of minarets.
"There is a rise in Islamophobia, in the concept of 'the other', as if they do not belong to society," said Davutoglu during an interview with the BBC. "It may be today Muslims, tomorrow Jews, the next day blacks, the next Africans. In this new global world we will be living together everywhere, so we need a new spirit of tolerance everywhere."
Davutoglu also made clear that Turkey still desired to become a full member of the EU.
"All the countries that start accession negotiations with the EU, they became members of the EU, except Norway which didn't want it. Based on this statistical analysis, I can say, Turkey will be a member of the EU, 100 per cent," he told the BBC.
Davutoglu said that Turkish admission to the EU was a litmus test for its development.
"There are two ways in front of the EU," he said. "Either the EU will be a global power, a dynamic economy and a multicultural global environment, or a continental power with a less dynamic economy, with a more inward-looking culture. These are the two options."
He added that Turkey's entry into the EU would transform the organisation into a global power.
"I am optimistic. I believe in the rationality of the EU approach. I'm sure Turkey will be a member, a contributing member - not a burden, but a big asset for the EU," he said.
Switzerland's vote to ban minarets boosts European racists
by Chris Bambery
Pic: The far right SVP plastered the country with these racist posters and billboards
Across Europe, racists have cheered the result of last Sunday’s referendum in Switzerland, which saw a vote to impose a ban on the building of minarets on mosques.
“Switzerland forever white and Christian,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for the anti-immigrant Northern League in Italy, as he hailed the result.
The League is now calling for the cross to be added to the Italian flag, to affirm the country’s “Christian identity”.
And in Holland, anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders is demanding a similar ban. “What is possible in Switzerland should also be possible here,” he says.
The result shows the growing climate of Islamophobia in Europe that is feeding fascists and other bigots.
This not just about words—it is leading to attacks on Muslims. Before the referendum the main mosque in Geneva was vandalised, and cobblestones were thrown at it, damaging a mosaic.
Farhad Afshar of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland warned that, “Muslims will not feel safe any more.”
The referendum over minarets was initiated by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which forced a vote after collecting 100,000 signatures from eligible citizens.
The SVP is the largest party in parliament and part of the ruling Swiss coalition government. It gained its biggest vote in the 2007 federal election where it ran an anti-immigrant campaign, saying “criminal foreigners” needed to be kicked out of the country.
It used the referendum as a way to further this racist agenda.
The SVP was allowed to turn the referendum into a vote on the very presence of Muslims within the country. It focused on claims that Switzerland would be put under Sharia law.
SVP posters urging a vote in support of the ban showed a menacing-looking woman in a black burqa posing next to missile-like minarets standing on top of the Swiss flag—a Switzerland which had been “taken over” by Islam.
The anti-Muslim arguments found support beyond the far right. Prominent Swiss feminist Julia Onken backed the ban, claiming that failure to ban minarets would be “a signal of the state’s acceptance of the oppression of women”.
She sent out 4,000 emails attacking Muslims who “condone forced marriage, honour killings and beating women”.
Many of those Muslims facing discrimination in Switzerland fled former Yugoslavia in search of a haven.
Now they are again targets.
Switzerland has traditionally relied on migrant labour, but also has a long history of racism.
After the Second World War, Italian “guest workers” were subject to racist discrimination, including being banned from public parks.
The police were handed control over immigration policy, with a duty to prevent the “over-foreignisation” of the country.
The SVP has now collected enough signatures for another referendum, which will allow foreigners convicted of a crime or falsely claiming welfare to be expelled from the country. It has also said it will move to ban the burqa.
The referendum result will boost racist and fascist parties across Europe, with their claims that Islam wants to take over Europe.
Yet Islam is an integral part of European civilisation. In the Middle Ages both Muslim Andalucía in Spain and Sicily in Italy were centres of learning and scholarship.
Today, the Islamophobia which accompanied the US-led assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan has become intertwined with the anti-migrant racism that has grown with the economic crisis, creating a poisonous brew.
Indonesia says Swiss minaret ban obstacle to interfaith harmony
04 Dec 2009
Jakarta - Indonesia on Friday criticized a Swiss referendum approving a ban on the construction of minarets, saying the move would not help efforts to promote religious harmony. The outcome of Sunday's vote in favour of the ban on tall towers attached to mosques has sparked criticism across the Muslim world.
"Indonesia strongly deplores any measures which are inconsistent with the promotion of religious harmony," Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said in a news conference.
"This referendum has convinced us that there are still misconceptions and stereotypes against a particular religion," he said.
The minaret vote surprised many in and outside Switzerland and left many Swiss concerned that the decision would make their country look intolerant.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has criticized the ban as "discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take."
Religious Leaders Slam Swiss Minaret Ban
By Lorena Margam
Dec. 04 2009
Prominent religious and political leaders expressed strong disapproval of the recent ban on the construction of Muslim minaret towers in Switzerland.
The Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, told Ecumenical News International that his organization “regrets that some sectors of Swiss society and politics found it necessary to take the issue of the construction of minarets in Switzerland to a referendum, and to force a decision for or against a ban.”
“This action has framed this interest in explicitly sectarian terms vis-a-vis Muslims,” Noko stated. "It thereby undermines efforts at inter-religious understanding and harmony in Switzerland, and the Swiss reputation and heritage of tolerance and hospitality."
The ban was approved on Sunday by a 57.5 percent vote from Swiss citizens, much to the shock of government officials.
Heavily backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and other conservative groups, propaganda for the campaign included posters depicting minaret towers as missiles on top of a Swiss flag.
The Swiss Council of Religions (SCR), a national body made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims, released a statement saying that their group “decisively rejects the Minaret Initiative.”
Defining themselves as being “dedicated to protecting religious peace in Switzerland and to strengthening trust among the churches and religious communities, “ the SCR said that the minaret initiative “instrumentalizes religion for political aims and engenders mistrust among the populace.”
The United Nations has also criticized the move, with UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir calling the ban a "clear discrimination towards the members of the Swiss Muslim community.”
"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," Jahangir said in a statement released on Monday.
Only four minarets actually exist in Switzerland, in the cities of Geneva and Frankfurt, while there are an estimated 200 mosques and prayer rooms throughout the country. Muslims account for about 4.5 percent of Switzerland’s 7.6 million-large population.
European rabbis condemn Swiss minaret ban
During Moscow summit members of Conference of European Rabbis issue censure of Swiss referendum results endorsing ban on construction of minarets. 'Europe cannot beat radical Islam by knocking down minarets; moderate elements should be supported,' Rabbi Aba Dunner says
Members of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) issued a condemnation Wednesday of a minaret ban endorsed by the Swiss public. During a meeting in Moscow the rabbis declared the decision to be undemocratic for violating freedom of religion.
Executive director of the CER Rabbi Aba Dunner commented on the rabbis' statement and noted that he opposed the ban not only due to the legal issues it posed, but since it reflected a fear of radical Islam.
The rabbi said that Europe could not triumph over Islam by taking down minarets and added that the right course of action should be supporting moderate elements within the Muslim community and cultivating dialogue between religions.
In a referendum held in Switzerland on Sunday, 57.5% of voters approved a ban on construction of new minarets, a decision which prompted worldwide criticism. T
The 47-nation Council of Europe said that banning new minarets in Switzerland "raises concerns as to whether fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes."
Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey expressed the government's concern and said that the restriction of the ability of different cultures and religions to live side by side jeopardized the public's security and could prompt violent reactions on the part of extremists.
Calmy-Rey noted that the ban would come into force immediately, but indicated that it could be overturned since it contradicts the European Human Rights Convention.
The rabbinical censure was issued during a semi-annual conference held by the CER in Russia. Dozens of rabbis from across the continent attended the meeting and marked 20 years to the renewal of Jewish life in Russia. The conference was also attended by Chairman of the Russian Federation Council Sergey Mironov, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Israeli Minister for Jewish heritage Meshulam Nahari, as well as representatives from the European Council and the local Jewish community.
European Council President Jerzy Buzek sent a greeting to the conference's participants, in which he wrote that the meeting was a basis for serious dialogue between religions and illustrated the positive relations between Jewish representatives and EU institutes.
He further added that the Jewish faith has contributed to the shaping of European culture and values and noted that cooperation alone would ensure that the events of World War II would not repeat themselves.
During a meeting with the rabbis, Mironov promised that freedom of religion and contact with the Jewish community will be strictly upheld and pledged to fight any manifestation of anti-Semitism. Mironov further noted that he would promote a special memorial day for Holocaust victims to be integrated into the Victory in Europe day.
'Minaret ban reminiscent of wars of Middle Ages'
04 Dec 2009
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says a recent ban on construction of new minarets in Switzerland is reminiscent of sectarian wars of the Middle Ages.
Davutoglu warned that the move could incite clashes on a global scale if sufficient measures are not taken, the Turkish Zaman newspaper reported on Thursday.
“The issue is too serious to be dealt with by mere statements," Turkey's top diplomat said.
“I am very concerned. We must take this issue very seriously. It is not something to be underestimated as an individual case," Davutoglu stated.
“Who can say for sure that mosques in Europe are safe now? Fifteen years ago, hundreds of mosques were burned down in Bosnia," he added.
Following a weekend referendum, the construction of any new minaret was declared illegal in Switzerland, a move which drew sharp criticism from Muslim and European countries, as well as the UN and the Vatican.