Sweden’s minister for Integration and Gender Equality, Nyamko Sabuni (Fp – Liberal People’s Party), has ordered an investigation of Islamist extremist activity in Sweden by the secret police (SÄPO). Sabuni also calls for exploring ways to support young people who want to leave Islamist organizations.
Zurich cantonal authorities have decided not to ban the wearing of veils in schools. The cantonal parliament rejected by 104 votes to 65 a motion put forward by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which wanted to ban the veil in places of education “in order to makes Swiss values respected in schools”. The motion had also wanted to do away with a special exemption for Muslims from swimming lessons during Ramadan.
Among those who rejected the motion on Monday, the centre-right Radicals said the current cantonal recommendations were “absolutely sufficient”, while the Green Liberals called the motion highly “intolerant”. Last year, the Swiss People’s Party, currently the largest party in Switzerland, championed an initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland.
The debate over the integration of the Muslim community into Swiss society is not new and has long been the subject of considerable political tension. The most recent controversy is no different and has already fuelled a heated discussion on whether the construction of minarets in Switzerland should be banned. The Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC, also known as the Swiss People’s Party), a major Swiss political party and forerunner of Swiss conservatism, first initiated the debate. The UDC quickly gathered the requisite 100,000 signatures necessary for a national referendum scheduled for the fall of 2009. It is worthwhile to note that Switzerland has only four minarets throughout the country even though Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity. The UDC is actively mobilizing public opinion against what it labels the “Islamization” of Switzerland, claiming that the percentage of Muslims – 5 percent – has grown too rapidly since the 1980s. But people have been speaking out against this view. Several experts and political leaders have questioned the legality and compliance of the referendum initiative with the Swiss Constitution and the European Charter of Human Rights (ECHR). According to them, the insertion in the Constitution of an article prohibiting the building of new minarets would be tantamount to encroaching on other fundamental rights also guaranteed by the same federal Constitution, such as equality before the law (Article 8); freedom of belief and conscience (Article 15); guarantee of property ownership (Article 26); the principle of proportionality (Article 5); adherence to international law (Article 5); and prohibition of discrimination (Article 8). Mir Cengic reports.
Over 90 Muslim graves were desecrated on Sunday in the central Austrian town of Traun, near Linz, close to the Czech border. The gravestones were knocked over and in certain cases painted with black spray paint, Austrian security authorities said in a statement. Jewish symbols such as the star of David were also painted on the graves, as well as “Menorah” or Jewish candelabra. Austrian authorities suspect right-wing extremist neo-Nazis were responsible for the violence. The cemetery’s undertaker said a sticker of a right-wing organisation was removed from the entrance of the cemetery last week. The incident took place the same day as two far-right political parties made substantial gains in Austria’s parliamentary election. At the weekend the far-right Freedom Party and the New Alliance for the Future of Austria received a combined 29.1 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats won the polls with 30 percent but they and the conservative People’s Party suffered their worst results since 1945.
In a referendum Swiss voters have voted by 64 percent to reject a proposal by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would have made it even harder for resident foreigners to gain citizenship. Only one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the plan. At present, naturalisation is decided by a commission, usually at regional level. The far-right had wanted to overturn a supreme court ruling so that applications could be decided by popular vote among local communities. More than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents are of foreign origin. To gain citizenship candidates must have lived in the alpine state for 12 years and pass tests on Swiss culture and language. The SVP’s campaign was challenged by Switzerland’s left parties, trade unions and Greens who described it as racist.
The debate about the integration of immigrants continues in Spain as the conservative opposition is pledging to toughen integration requirements if they win the March 9th elections. The main opposition, the conservative People’s Party (PP) plans to push schools to ban the Islamic headscarf with the exception of the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which have large Muslim populations. The party would also oblige Muslim girls to attend physical education classes, allow male doctors to examine female Muslim patients, and make immigrants seeking residence permits sign contracts in which they would agree to respect Spanish laws and customs, language, and tax duties. The idea was inspired by French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
City council elections in the south-eastern Austrian city of Graz on Sunday failed to result in significant support for a local candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FP) who had lashed out against Islam in a highly controversial campaign. The top-seeded FP candidate Susanne Winter scored only moderate wins for the party just days after she called the Muslim prophet Mohammed a “child molester” and called for Islam to be pushed “back where it belonged, beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Mohammed’s marriage to a six-year-old girl would make the prophet a paedophile in today’s system, the lawmaker had told a rally. Voters in Graz, however, seemed only moderately impressed by Winter’s Islam-bashing. Official results showed the FP gained 3.1 per cent, but remained below expectations with 11.1 per cent. Various polls had showed the party would score between 10 and 13 per cent. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said the FP had reached their goal of getting into the double digits. Winter pursued her campaign “in the face of strong antagonism, defamation and scandalous threats of violence against her,” he was quoted as saying by the Austrian press agency. Winter’s remarks were followed by a public outcry and triggered an intensive debate about Islamophobia in Austria. According to political analysts, the FP’s anti-Muslim campaign was a calculated gambit to appeal both to a radically xenophobe fringe among Austria’s electorate as well as those alienated by immigration. The Islam-bashing turned out a “non-starter” for the rightists, with the conservative People’s Party and the Greens benefiting instead, analyst Wolfgang Bachmayer told the public broadcaster ORF.
On Monday, the New Alliance, under Dutch Parliamentarian Naser Khader, split from the social-liberal party, the Radical Venstre (RV). Khaser is an advocate of free speech and Muslim dialogue. His political maneuver is designed to combat the right-wing Danish People’s Party, which has taken increasingly antagonistic positions against foreigners. Syrian-born Khader gained national attention during last year’s cartoon controversy. He also founded the Association of Democratic Muslims. Through this organization, he urges dialogue within the community and appeals to the Danish people to differentiate between radical Muslims and those with moderate positions.