The Swiss minaret debate goes on

The new year continues as the old one ended: with discussing the Swiss minaret ban and its consequences. A prominent TV talk show hosted Justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Hisham Maizar, president of the Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organisations and Thomas Wipf of the Swiss Protestant Communion.

Starting off with a positive statement, Widmer-Schlumpf stated that at least “We finally discuss”. Maizar demanded a public and legal acknowledgment of Islam, while Wipf claimed it was still to early for that and that Muslims should be sensitive for being a minority among a majority – that includes not demanding the construction of minarets yet. He furthermore regretted the fact that there were so many different currents within Islam and that Swiss Muslims did not speak with one voice. This point was supported by Maizar, calling for a greater union within the Swiss Muslim community, which should be supported by the state. Widmer-Schlumpf, however, rejected this request as not being the task of the state.

Anti-Semites and enemies of Islam show striking parallels, historian Wolfgang Benz explains

German and European anti-Semites of the 19th century, who paved the way for the Nazis, and enemies of Islam in the 21st century employ similar mechanisms. Historian Wolfgang Benz, who is the director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism in Berlin, sees significant parallels between the two supremacist movements. Concepts of the enemy are always constructions following certain principles; they distinguish between good (oneself) and evil (the “other”/external) as a basis for exclusion and putting the blame on a specific group.

19th century anti-Semites have managed to make their racist and deathly pseudo-theories public and to convince a significant number of people with fraud documents such as the fake “Protocols of the elders of Zion”, which were supposed to give evidence for an alleged Jewish world conspiracy. Today, Benz argues, the public should be more aware of these mechanisms and be able to unmask them. But still many people are ready to condemn Islam as “evil” on the grounds of a minority that is extremist. They spread irrational fears of a “foreign power” that takes over the society from within and with the help of demographics – arguments that were also used under Nazi rule when Jews were not allowed to procreate. Benz calls for actively remembering the consequences of the construction of enmities.

After the Swiss referendum: underestimated identity problems

The surprisingly clear vote in favour of banning minarets expresses unease with various causes. The implications too will no doubt be controversial. One thing is for sure: Switzerland’s politicians have underestimated immaterial concerns.

More significant that the direct consequences of the vote are the indirect ones and the atmosphere it has caused. Switzerland is not in a situation in which its image abroad is of no import. In some quarters, the ban on minarets may be registered with a shrug or even applauded. On the whole, however, Switzerland’s reputation as a nation of liberal freedom and diversity and the credibility of its human rights policies will suffer.

The outcome of the referendum presumably also reflects moods and views which have little to do with the Muslims themselves, opening up much scope for interpretation and deductions. Was it actually immigration on the agenda? The lack of spiritual orientation? The uncontrolled events in the global and local economy? For the time being, this is all mere conjecture.

Swiss minaret ban raises identity tensions in France, says Abdennour Bidar

In this editorial French philosopher and writer Abdennour Bidar considers the consequences of the minaret ban for Muslims in France. The culture of fear and of political Islam in particular is of concern, he claims. Bidar points to how both sides can act in reaction in this climate. Please see the article to appreciate the complex philosophical article he makes about identity and alterity.

Interview with Şeyla Benhabib about the status of Islam in Germany

The philosopher Şeyla Benhabib has identified a deficit in Germany’s democracy. She calls for the right to vote in local elections for non-nationals – and the same legal status for Islam as for other religions. “From the equal rights point of view, Islam has to be acknowledged as a religious community. There’s room for discussion on which form this should take and what consequences it should have, but the first priority is to abolish this plain and public form of unequal treatment. It is blocking the debate.”

Qaeda threatens Germany to change policies or face consequences

Al-Qaeda warned Germans on Friday to change their government in the September 27 election, saying they will face a “bad awakening” if they do not, according to two intelligence monitoring services.

Germany was also told to withdraw its 4,200 troops from Afghanistan or face being attacked at home, the US-based groups said. In video footage a man identified as Abu Talha the German, and speaking in German, says that if Chancellor Angela Merkel is re-elected, “bitter times await the Germans,” according to IntelCenter and the SITE Intelligence Group. He asks: “Mrs Merkel, what is the logical outcome reaped by the British and Spanish conservatives by their support for the Iraq war?” in an apparent reference to attacks in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. He appears to suggest that if German voters do not heed his warnings, Al-Qaeda will act within a fortnight. Germany’s interior ministry said on Friday there was an increased risk of attacks on German soil ahead of the elections, and said security at airports and train stations had been boosted. Addressing German Muslims Abu Talha says: “Al-Qaeda asks you to stay away from all that is not necessary in the two weeks that follow the elections, if the German people does not decide to withdraw its soldiers from Afghanistan. Keep your children near you in this period.” Abu Talha, whose real name is said to be Bekkay Harrach, stands in front of a red backdrop, wearing a jacket and tie. He is said by the German authorities to be a native of Morocco, and in his early 30s, who has lived intermittently in Bonn and is now thought to be in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. In the footage he asks Muslim youths in Germany to let Al-Qaeda act first if the jihad were to begin in Germany, and says they will be told if action is required afterwards. He also said the city of Kiel “will remain a peaceful city, no matter how long the conflict.” Abu Talha says that if Germany withdraws from Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda will no longer target it. “If the Germans are inclined now towards peace, then the mujahideen will be inclined towards peace, as well. With the departure of the last German soldier from Afghanistan, the last mujahid in Germany will be withdrawn. “It is time for Germany to know that Afghanistan is not the seventeenth province of Germany and that it is not the ‘beer tent’ where to hold the ‘Oktoberfest’ throughout the year,” he added. The authenticity of the nearly 26-minute video cannot be independently verified. Abu Talha first appeared in a video entitled “Germany?s Rescue Plan” from Al-Qaeda?s media arm, As-Sahab, on January 17. In that video, he also threatened reprisals if Germany did not withdraw from Afghanistan. He said Germans were “gullible and naive” if they thought they “were going to get off without injury when they are the third (largest) occupying force in Afghanistan” after the Americans and the British. He later dictated an audio message that was released on February 26 and was entitled “Islam and the Financial Crisis.”

The Securitization of Islam in Europe

This paper summarises the main hypotheses and results of the research on the securitisation of Islam. It posits that the securitisation of Islam is not only a speech act but also a policymaking process that affects the making of immigration laws, multicultural policies, antidiscrimination measures and security policies. The paper deconstructs and analyses the premises of such policies as well as their consequences on the civic and political participation of Muslims. The behaviour of Muslims was studied through 50 focus groups conducted in Paris, London, Berlin and Amsterdam over the year 2007-08. The results show a great discrepancy between the assumptions of policy-makers and the political and social reality of Muslims across Europe. The paper presents recommendations to facilitate the greater inclusion of Muslims within European public spheres.

Diabetes affects foreigners in Spain

The numbers of immigrants living with diabetes in Spain is estimated between 15-25 percent of immigrants, compared to just 12 percent among native Spaniards. “We think there are around 500,000 diabetic immigrants, diagnosed and not, most of whom are Latin American, Moroccan and Pakistani”, explains Josep Franch at the Raval Sud Drassanes medical clinic in Barcelona. Doctors believe the rates are connected to cultural food choices, and are making suggestions to patients; Indians and Pakistanis are being urged to lessen carbohydrate-rich breads, and patients of Moroccan backgrounds are encouraged to eat fewer honey-covered sweets. Besides changes in diet, Franch also notes that the concept of disease varies among cultures. If they aren’t in pain they don’t think they are unwell, but the consequences of diabetes on health occur in the mid- to long-term”, Franch notes.

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Spiegel Interview with Author Leon De Winter: ‘The Europeans Are Chasing Illusions’

Dutch author Leon de Winter talks with SPIEGEL about his new novel, which is set in 2024, the threats mounting against Israel and the assimilation of Muslims in Europe. SPIEGEL: In your home country, the Netherlands, there is a widespread fear of Islamization. You have written a great deal on this topic yourself, and some of this sounds rather apocalyptic. Does this still reflect your view of the world? De Winter: Not during the day. Only when I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and can’t fall asleep again. That’s when I really start to worry about everything — about my taxes, my children, my dog and my cats. And, of course, about the state of our society and what will happen to it. We are living in exciting times. And you know the Chinese curse: “May you live in exciting times!” Not since the end of World War II have things been as exciting as they are today. We are experiencing a new phenomenon: the mass immigration of Muslims to countries where the “infidels” live. SPIEGEL: What do you expect the consequences of this will be? De Winter: There are signs that a modern Islam is emerging. An increasing number of young, liberal Muslims are trying to practice their own form of religion because they have been inspired by the idea of freedom. But, of course, radical Islam remains a problem. It has a very strong appeal for frustrated young men with violent tendencies who at some point in time discover that the world is full of injustice and want to do something about it. It’s a bit like an adventure: the dramatic farewell videos, the last message to the world and then — the explosion. On top of that, there is the promise of sex after death, something many of them can only dream of. I can understand how young men become fanatics. But I also see something entirely different: how it is primarily young Muslim women here in Holland who become integrated into society; how they get an education and move forward because they have their freedom. And they seize this opportunity. SPIEGEL: So it’s only a matter of time before the problem solves itself? De Winter: We don’t know how long it will take and how many victims it will claim. It could take 40 or 50 years before integration has really occurred. Everything is in a state of flux, and nobody can say where the journey will take us.