Langenthal Minaret Controversy Continues

November 11-15, 2010

Langenthal, a town in Oberaargau known for design, porcelain, and reflecting average German-Swiss tastes and opinions, continues to make headlines due to a local minaret project. Though occurring one year following the banning of minarets in Switzerland by national referendum, the minaret project had already received approval from city officials before the referendum, and thus has been permitted.
This is being contested by the “Stop Minaret” action committee, which is taking the decision to court and recently has attempted to erect a monument in the city to commemorate the persecution of non-Muslims in Islamic countries. The monument, which is supposed to be placed in the middle of a traffic circle, has been rejected by the local council.
Thomas Rufener, the mayor of Langenthal, is a member of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), though he criticizes the way political parties and the media have exploited the issue to gain attention and serve other agendas. The local Muslims find the situation paradoxical as the majority of them are Macedonian Albanians, and they had arrived in Switzerland precisely because they could not live freely as Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.
Nonetheless, business continues as usual for those who come to deal with the local Langenthal companies. A foreign employee of a local hotel mentions that those in Langenthal on business rarely notice the protests as they take place on the weekends, while Swiss visitors are simply used to them.

Minaret Ban Was No Mistake

29 October 2010
Almost one year following the referendum to ban minarets in Switzerland, a survey commissioned by the Protestant newspaper Reformiert and carried out by Isopublic seems to indicate that the results of the Swiss minaret ban would be similar were the vote to be held again today: 43% of the 1004 individuals from German and French-speaking Switzerland interviewed responded that they would vote for the ban, while 46.4% responded that they would vote against the ban.
However, given the fact that all earlier surveys before the 2009 ban had put the percentage of supporters at 37%, and after taking into consideration the effective emotional campaigning and mobilizing techniques of the minaret opponents, the results of this survey seem to indicate rather that the gap between the two camps has shrunk – especially amongst those in higher income brackets, who would more readily support the ban today than last year.
While almost half of respondents claimed that minaret ban had changed nothing, only 5.4% considered it to have had a positive effective, compared with the 40.2% who believe it to have had a negative effective on Swiss society. The latter group highlighted a growing polarization of Swiss society, heightened suspicions with regard to Muslims, lower acceptance of otherness, and generally negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.
Finally, somewhat surprisingly, two-thirds of French Swiss and 15-34-year-olds both responded negatively to the question “Do you perceive there to be an anti-Muslim sentiment in Switzerland?” while more than half of German Swiss and 55-74-year-olds responded positively. In total, 47.2% of respondents answered negatively to the same question, while 48.9% agreed that they perceived such a feeling today in Switzerland, for example in the debates over the burqa or Muslim cemeteries.
Reformiert (German)
For the survey:

Canadian Muslims Erect First Minaret in the Arctic

News Agencies – October 27, 2010

Canadian Muslims have erected the Arctic’s first minaret, atop a little yellow mosque which serves as spiritual home to the area’s fledgling Islamic community. The prefabricated mosque arrived in Inuvik in September to serve a growing Muslim population in Canada’s far north, after traveling 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) over land and water. The minaret — built locally and installed this week — has four levels and stands 30 feet (10 meters) off the ground.
The number of Muslims in Inuvik, a town of 4,000 inhabitants in Canada’s Northwest Territories, has grown steadily in recent years to about 80 and they no longer fit in an old three-by-seven-meter (10-by-23-foot) caravan used until now for prayers. The worshippers — largely Sunni Muslim immigrants from Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt who moved to Canada’s far north in search of jobs and economic opportunities — are to hold an open house on November 5.

Right-Wing Radicals Protest against Minarets

9 October 2010
Around 150 anti-minaret protests have gathered in Langenthal to denounce the recent decision to allow the construction of a minaret for the local Islamic center. Members of the far-right Swiss Nationalist Party (PNOS) demanded that the November 2009 ban on minarets be respected, however local officials have said that the original decision to allow the minaret was made before the national referendum took place. As part of the demonstration, a number of paper-maché minarets were symbolically “swept off” of the Swiss flag, while four individuals fully clad in black carried signs denouncing the burqa.

FPÖ Election Results Unimpeded by Minaret-Game Controversy

26 September 2010
Despite the legal proceedings begun by the state prosecutor concerning an anti-minaret video game used by the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) during the recent Styrian election campaign, the FPÖ has not suffered any negative backlash. To the contrary: the FPÖ received almost 11% of the vote in the recent elections, and have consequently gained a seat in the state legislature. Another indication of the success of the anti-Islam strategy could been seen by a present the Styrian FPÖ leader, Gerhard Kurzmann, recently received from two deeply pious Christians: a magnificently adorned cross, placed in a blue case [the FPÖ’s official colour is blue].

Free riding with Islam Critics

28 September 2010
An old journalistic adage says: “sex sells.” These days, however, whether it’s minarets, headscarves or the Qur’an, it seems it is Islam that sells. Nonetheless, the recent news of a minaret going up in Langenthal has been handled responsibly by the press, and the picture used in most cases clearly shows the diminutive dimensions of the proposed minaret.
Only the newspaper Blick has taken a different course: while using pictures overexaggerating the size of the minaret, they have also characterized a recent decision allowing veils in the school community of Bad Ragaz as a “further triumph for the Muslims!” It is precisely this kind of journalism which promotes the media careers of extremists like the recent American pastor who threatened to burn the Qur’an: without the media’s spotlights there would not have even been a problem.

Green Light for a Minaret in Langenthal

21 September 2010

The canton of Bern has confirmed the construction permit for a minaret in Langenthal. Despite the minaret ban that exists in Switzerland since the referendum of 29 November 2009, local officials stated that the project had been approved before the referendum took place, and thus the prior legal situation should take precedence. The president of the Langenthal Islamic Religious Community, Mutalip Karaademi, has called a “victory for the rule of law.”
However, canton officials also judged valid complaints by neighbors with regard to the expansion of the Islamic center, namely a lack of parking spaces, an overuse of the land, and wheelchair inaccessibility. Consequently, the expansion of the center will not be allowed, leaving the Langenthal Islamic Religious Community with doubts over whether they will continue with the project in its current location, or whether they will attempt to move it somewhere else.
No matter what the religious community decides, local activists from the “Stop the Minarets” movement have announced that they are ready to fight the decision to allow the minaret in Langenthal, and will take the issue to the constitutional court if necessary.

“A Minaret in Every Provincial Capital”

(Immigration and Integration, Muslim Advocacy and Organizations)
22 August 2010
The outgoing president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), Anas Schakfeh, has stated in a recent interview with the radio program Ö1 that he hopes that every Austrian provincial capital will eventually have a mosque, with a minaret. Considering the number of Muslims in Austria stands at half a million, there are simply not enough places of worship.
“Mosques should not be hidden, but hidden things are always problematic and suspicious,” said Schakfeh. “We want to be normal citizens of this country.” With regard to the minaret, Schakfeh stated that similar to Christian churches many elements can be negotiated, however “a church has a structure, a form of architecture. And a mosque has a form of architecture as well.” The height of the minaret can be discussed, and loudspeakers are not a necessity either. Just as there are many different Islamic styles for prayer houses, Schakfeh believes that “a middle-European style may develop.”
The IGGiÖ is also planning to open a local branch in every provincial capital. The timing is not arbitrary, as starting in April 2011 a new representation will be elected by Austrian Muslims.
Schakfeh also criticized the government’s recently proposed “German language prerequisite” for immigrants to Austria as “simply unfeasible.” Most migrants would first have to migrate to a large city in their own country to attend the classes before being able to immigrate to Austria, thus necessitating a double emigration.
Finally Schakfeh stated his opposition to a ban of the burqa. “We do not recommend this form of the veil,” he continued, however a ban would be counterproductive because it would lead to the social isolation of those women who wear it. According to Schakfeh, the most important thing is being able to guarantee that women are making the decision of their own volition.

Council of Europe Rebukes Swiss Minaret Ban

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called for a moratorium on the
Swiss minaret ban during a debate on Islam, Islamism, and Islamophobia in Europe. The
recommendation was passed with the unanimous support of the entire assembly, including that
of all the Swiss representatives, even André Bugnon, who had earlier supported the ban. In the
adopted text, the minaret ban was criticized as a form of discrimination against Muslims, and
recommended that minarets be treated in a similar fashion to church steeples; the text went on to
recommend against legally banning the veil or the burka in Europe.
Other complaints against the minaret ban have been lodged with the European Court of Human
Rights, which were recognized as valid by the court in May 2010. Folco Galli, spokesperson
for the Swiss Ministry of Justice, states that Switzerland takes notice of the resolution, but that
authorities are obligated to follow the official change to the Swiss constitution brought about by
the referendum on minarets. In a similar fashion, while the Neue Zürcher Zeitung did not take
issue with the general position taken by the Council of Europe, the recommendation to impose a
moratorium on the ban was criticized as misguided, as it would imply that state officials ought to
disregard prevailing constitutional law.

The Genoa Mosque may not have a minaret

The municipality of Genoa has asked Alireza Naser Eslami, professor of Islamic and Byzantine architecture at the University of Genoa, to contribute to the project of the city’s mosque. According to the professor, the mosque will respect the urban context, and, for this reason, it might not have a minaret. Although in Arab architecture there are specific and recurring elements, says the professor, a fixed model doesn’t exist. The mosque, however, will exhibit crucial features of Islamic decorations. The project is the outcome of a continual and positive dialogue between the local authorities and the Islamic Community of Genoa, aiming at of balancing different interests in a climate of mutual recognition and respect.