Posted at PSLweb.org:
By: Tamara Khoury
Anti-immigrant reaction gathers strength in Europe
Campaign posters all over Berne, Switzerland depicted a woman wearing a burqa standing next to a Swiss flag covered with missiles. The posters were pushing a
referendum on a proposed ban on the construction of new minarets. Minarets are architectural features of Islamic mosques, and the proposed ban is a thinly veiled, racist attack against the rights of Muslims living in Switzerland. On Nov. 30, the referendum passed by a margin of 57 percent. Because an outright majority of Swiss states (or “cantons”) supported the ban, it can now become a constitutional amendment.
Minaret of Zurich’s Mahmud Mosque
Photo: Christian Hartmann
The approved ban openly breeches the Swiss Constitution’s policy of religious tolerance. The major right-wing party, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), called for the vote as the culmination of a long-running campaign against immigration.
In its previous campaigns, the SVP used similarly racist poster designs, including the image of white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag.
Although many Swiss government officials publicly encouraged voters to reject the ban, they also prepared for its passage. “I am assuming our trade relations with other countries will become more difficult,” said Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf. Other statements made by officials described fears of a “backlash from the Muslim world,” similar to what happened after cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were published in Denmark.
Sheer ignorance and naked Islamophobia won over voters during the election. The main message of the pro-referendum campaigners was the ridiculous fear of the potential “Islamization of Switzerland.” This didn’t stop Oskar Freysinger, a prominent politician in the Swiss People’s Party from claiming, “This has nothing to do with the practice of religion.” Ulrich Schuler, the co-president of an initiative committee made things more explicit: “Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating pure and impure—we don’t have that in Switzerland, and we do not want to introduce it.”
They also claimed that minarets are symbolic of political and religious power and that the ongoing construction would lead to the future integration of Islam into the Swiss government. In most Muslim countries, minarets atop mosques are used to project calls to prayer five times a day. However, the population of Switzerland is only 6 percent Muslim. The majority of Swiss Muslims do not actively practice Islam. At present, there is a total of four minarets in the country, and none is used to call Muslims to prayer.
Campaigners also misinformed voters with information regarding Sharia Law.
The bigotry that has blinded Swiss voters from making a clear decision is a product of a deepening xenophobia across Europe. France, the European country with the largest Muslim population, banned young women from wearing the hijab, or headscarf, in public schools. In Germany, a Muslim citizen was publicly murdered while testifying in court. Now comes the Swiss minaret ban. Anti-immigrant reaction is gaining strength across the continent. Resistance to this growing wave must also quickly grow stronger and better organized.