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.

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.

Follow-up survey on Switzerland’s minaret ban

According to a “Vox” follow-up survey conducted in Switzerland following the referendum banning minarets, proponents of the ban wanted to make a symbolic gesture against the spread of Islam in Switzerland, however were not rejecting Muslims in Switzerland in general.

The survey demonstrated a clear division between right and left-wing voters, 80 percent of whom voted respectively for and against the ban. The political middle played the deciding role, especially FDP and CVP voters, who supported the ban against the wishes of their preferred parties. The level of education of voters was an equally important factor, with 76 percent of voters with apprenticeship and vocational degrees supporting the ban, as opposed to 34 percent of higher-educated voters. Around 60 percent of Protestant as well as Catholic voters supported the ban, while in general agnostic and atheist voters rejected it. Contrary to what had been speculated following the referendum, left-wing female voters massively rejected the ban (16% voted yes) even compared to their male counterparts (21 percent), while on the right a noticeable difference was equally present between female voters (87 percent) and male voters (71 percent).

The main reason given by supporters of the ban was the desire to send a symbolic message of opposition to the spread of Islam and the Islamic model of society, while one out of every six who voted in favor also mentioned discrimination against Christian churches in Muslim countries as a decisive factor.

However, the authors of the study argue that the explanation for the vote cannot be simplistically linked to xenophobia or identity-loss due to globalization, pointing out that 40 percent of voters who support a modern and cosmopolitan Switzerland, as well as equal opportunities between Swiss and foreigners, also voted in support of the ban. Furthermore, 64 percent of all voters were fully or fairly persuaded that Swiss and Islamic ways of life were compatible, and only 15 percent of those in favor of the ban cited specific complaints regarding Muslims living in Switzerland. Thus the study concludes that the result of the referendum should not be interpreted as a general rejection of Muslims living in Switzerland.

Not against Muslims, but against Islam

According to a “Vox” follow-up survey conducted in Switzerland following the referendum banning minarets, proponents of the ban wanted to make a symbolic gesture against the spread of Islam in Switzerland, however were not rejecting Muslims in Switzerland in general.

The survey demonstrated a clear division between right and left-wing voters, 80 percent of whom voted respectively for and against the ban. The political middle played the deciding role, especially FDP and CVP voters, who supported the ban against the wishes of their preferred parties. The level of education of voters was an equally important factor, with 76 percent of voters with apprenticeship and vocational degrees supporting the ban, as opposed to 34 percent of higher-educated voters. Around 60 percent of Protestant as well as Catholic voters supported the ban, while in general agnostic and atheist voters rejected it. Contrary to what had been speculated following the referendum, left-wing female voters massively rejected the ban (16% voted yes) even compared to their male counterparts (21 percent), while on the right a noticeable difference was equally present between female voters (87 percent) and male voters (71 percent).

The main reason given by supporters of the ban was the desire to send a symbolic message of opposition to the spread of Islam and the Islamic model of society, while one out of every six who voted in favor also mentioned discrimination against Christian churches in Muslim countries as a decisive factor.

However, the authors of the study argue that the explanation for the vote cannot be simplistically linked to xenophobia or identity-loss due to globalization, pointing out that 40 percent of voters who support a modern and cosmopolitan Switzerland, as well as equal opportunities between Swiss and foreigners, also voted in support of the ban. Furthermore, 64 percent of all voters were fully or fairly persuaded that Swiss and Islamic ways of life were compatible, and only 15 percent of those in favor of the ban cited specific complaints regarding Muslims living in Switzerland. Thus the study concludes that the result of the referendum should not be interpreted as a general rejection of Muslims living in Switzerland.

Silencing Bosnia’s minarets

In the eastern Bosnian town of Bjeljina, 1,200 Serb residents signed the petition which calls for the reduction of the volume of the ezan (call to prayer) as it apparently creates a disruptive “noise” for the local Serb population. Harun Karcic, a graduate researcher at the Roberto Ruffili Faculty of Political Science thinks that this new move following a citizens’ petition demonstrates that Switzerland’s referendum has more far reaching implications than was first obvious.

“This move, which will most probably go unnoticed in most parts of the world, shows that the Swiss referendum and growing Islamophobia in Europe will have more serious consequences for Europe’s autochthonous Muslims than for the largely North African, Turkish and South Asian Muslim immigrants of Western Europe”, states Karcic among other things.

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.

Head of OSCE human rights office expresses concern about outcome of Swiss minaret ban referendum

The director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, expressed concern today at the outcome of the referendum held in Switzerland on Sunday on the ban of the construction of minarets.

“A blanket prohibition of minarets is not consistent with OSCE commitments on freedom of religion or belief and the principle of non-discrimination based on religion,” Lenarcic said in Athens, where he will participate in the OSCE Ministerial Council, to be held tomorrow and Wednesday. The referendum, launched by the Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union, was backed by 57.5 percent of voters and a majority of cantons.

Europe’s waning liberalism: by John Esposito

Last year, at a European meeting of intelligence officials from the US and Europe, a Swiss participant commented on a proposed referendum on minarets. He was sure it would go nowhere since, as he said, Switzerland is a very pluralistic society; its Muslim population is relatively small and there are few mosques with minarets.
Enlightened Switzerland has now become part of an “Enlightened Liberal Europe” that is increasingly not all that liberal. The stunning Swiss vote – 57 percent – approving a referendum to ban minarets, should not have been all that surprising, considering the growing power of Islamophobia.

In both Europe and the US, right-wing politicians, political commentators, media personalities, and religious leaders continue to feed a growing suspicion of mainstream Muslims by fuelling a fear that Islam, and not just Muslim extremism, is a threat. (…)

Film director Akın boycotts Switzerland due to minaret ban

Leading Turkish-German director Fatih Akın has said he will boycott the Swiss premiere of his new film as a protest against Sunday’s referendum vote to ban the construction of minarets in the country. In an open letter, Akın voiced his dismay and complained that the Swiss ban contradicted his belief in the “harmonious co-existence of peoples.”

“Soul Kitchen,” Akın’s comedy about the multicultural day-to-day life in the German city of Hamburg, is due to be shown in Zurich on December 16. In his letter, the director said he would not accompany his film to the country.
“As a child of Muslim parents who do not see minarets as symbols of political Islam but, rather, simply the complete architecture of their houses of worship, I feel personally affected by the referendum. That is why I refuse to travel to Switzerland,” he wrote. The minaret ban has sparked heated debates and indignant reactions from countless groups and individuals worldwide.

Germans against minaret ban

After the Swiss referendum on banning the construction of minarets, German pollsters are eager to find out about the level of tolerance in their country. Two polls have been conducted, showing that a majority opposes the minaret ban, but the difference between supporters and opponents is small, depending on the survey.

According to a poll by Emnid Institute for the tabloid “Bild am Sonntag”, 48 percent of the Germans are against a minaret ban and 38 percent would vote in favour of such a ban. At the same time, researchers at TNS-Infratest on behalf of “Der Spiegel” found that 45 percent oppose a minaret ban, while as much as 44 percent favour it.

Both surveys, however, revealed stark differences between the former East and West. In the East, a majority supports a minaret ban (Emnid: 44 percent, TNS-Infratest: 47 percent), while a minority opposes it (both polls: 37 percent). In the former West, a minority is for the ban (Emnid: 37 percent, TNS-Infratest: 43 percent), with a majority against it (Emnid: 51 percent, TNS-Infratest: 47 percent).

It is worth noting that all Swiss polls had predicted a majority against the ban prior to the referendum and that the German polls do not necessarily imply a different outcome if Germany – or any other country – were to hold a similar popular vote.