Three Lessons from Switzerland’s Immigration Referendum

February 24, 2014


BERLIN—On February 9, a small majority of Swiss voters approved a proposal by the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to significantly limit migration inflows from other European countries. The Swiss vote garnered attention across Europe because it now requires the renegotiation of certain agreements between the European Union and Switzerland — a non-member — which had thus far been ensured by bilateral treaties. The issues at stake are the free movement of goods, capital, services, and, most importantly, people — the EU’s “Four Freedoms.” Based on the referendum, the number of Germans, French, or Polish citizens allowed to migrate to Switzerland will be contingent on a quota system.

Muslims pose no ‘threat’ to Switzerland

Following the controversial debate on integration and assimilation of Islam in Switzerland, which led to the legal passing of a right-wing initiative of the populist SVP party against the construction of minarets in the country in 2009, three postulates requested to urgently obtain further information upon the state of affair of the Muslim community in Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Council subsequently charged the Ministry of Federal Justice and Police to write a report on the community, which was released last week Wednesday. The report qualifies the diverse Swiss Muslim community as posing no ‘threat’ to the country, whose integration is slowed down rather by ‘linguistic and sociocultural barriers than questions of religious order’. No ‘specific measures’ are to be taken to ‘better integrate’ the Muslim communities of the country, the Ministry concluded.

The report indicates that the Muslim population of the country has remained demographically stable in the last 10 years. Whereas in 2000 3.6% of the Swiss population identified as Muslim, in 2010 it was 4.5.%. These numbers contradict the SVP parties fear mongering rhetoric and campaign which predicted the demographic doubling of the Muslim community in Switzerland on the basis of vague estimations made between 1970 and 2000 and led to their successful 2009 anti-minaret campaign.

The Ministry’s report underlines the heterogeneity of the Muslim community, which is neither monolithic nor static, but made up by communities of different ethnic, linguistic, national and cultural backgrounds as well as sectarian differences. Amongst the Swiss Muslim population, those who are practicing are numbered as a small minority (only 15%). Only half of the population is part of an organised Muslim group and the other half practices their religion privately and in an ‘individual manner’.

The report also lists a number of specific public domains, such as the army, education or health, where Islam doesn’t pose any obvious problems. Areas of conflict arise, according to the report, in the fields of funerals, forced marriages, djihadism or discrimination at workplace.

Accordingly, the Federal Council underlines that ‘severe problems’ of the religious groups and its members only occur in exceptional circumstances and are often dependant on the individual rather than the group or a Muslim organisation. In only few rare cases imams have attempted to impose extremist ideas in mosques, whereas only a dozen of mosques in the country are believed to be subject to extremist interpretations of Islam. The majority of Swiss mosques adhere to a moderate teaching and practice of Islam.

What the government report, however, also reveals is the existence and prevalence of an intersection of discrimination faced by the country’s Muslim population. Being both ‘foreign’ and Muslim puts members of the 350.000-400.000 strong community in positions of increased vulnerability to discrimination, harassment and hate crimes on the basis of racism and xenophobia.

Switzerland report

Muslims Disappointed Following Meeting with St. Gallen Director of Education

November 16, 2010

Stefan Kölliker, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) director of education for St. Gallen, has recently met with Hisham Maizar, a representative of the Federation for Islamic Communities in East Switzerland, concerning the education council’s decision in August 2010 to call for the banning of headscarves in schools.
Despite Maizar’s efforts, Kölliker has stated that he has no intention to change his position on the issue. Maizar called the decision “disproportionate,” and “fully politically motivated,” due to the low number of cases involving headscarf-wearing students. Nevertheless, he told Kölliker that he would gladly speak further with him concerning questions related to Islam and schools, while Kölliker stated that it was “conceivable” that he might accept such an offer.

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.

Wearing your Weapon

26 October 2010

Media commentator Rainer Stadler reminds us in this piece that migration, Islam, violence and criminality have become the daily bread and butter for the media. Whether concerning Tony Blair’s former sister-in-law, recently converted to Islam, or the ubiquitous claims of “failed integration,” the Swiss tabloid press has become more aggressive with regard to the political questions involving foreigners.
The right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has recently come up with another trick: while rejecting the notion that talk show journalism has a significant effect on public debate on Tele Züri, politician Christoph Mörgeli prominently wore a tie sporting the SVP’s now-famous sheep placard (showing a black sheep getting literally kicked out of a Switzerland populated by white sheep).

Copyright for anti-Islam propaganda?

The French party Front National is advertising their rightwing agenda on election posters that very much resemble those of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) during their campaign against minaret construction. The SVP’s poster showed a Muslim woman, almost completely veiled in black cloth, next to an “army” of minarets, covering the Swiss flag. The poster of the National Front’s youth organization shows a similar lady next to a map of France, which is also pierced by minarets and additionally bears colors and symbols of Islamic countries’ flags.

Apparently there is a copyright even on supremacy, and so the SVP now claims violation of copyright. Front National assert that the poster was their idea and even postulates that the People’s Party are building on the “achievements” of the Front National. Furthermore, the French party claims, there are only a few images that can be employed to depict the “creeping Islamisation” of France.

Swiss voters approve minaret ban by 57 percent

To the great surprise of pollsters and the regret of the government, the Swiss on Sunday said yes to a ban on the construction of minarets. According to final results, 57.5 percent of voters and a majority of cantons backed the initiative. Turnout was high at around 55 percent. The result comes as a major surprise and a slap in the face of the government. Opinion polls ahead of the vote had predicted the ban would be rejected by 53 percent of the electorate.

The proposal on banning minaret construction was championed by rightwing and ultra-conservative groups. The government and most political parties as well as churches and the business community came out strongly against it.

“A majority of the Swiss people and the cantons have adopted the popular initiative against the construction of minarets. The Federal Council respects this decision”, a government statement said. “Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted. The four existing minarets will remain. It will also be possible to continue to construct mosques.”

The statement said freedom of belief would not be affected. “Muslims in Switzerland are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others, and live according to their beliefs just as before.”

Islam-wary Swiss may ban minarets

Switzerland will hold a referendum on banning the construction of new minarets on November 29 in response to a petition for a popular vote on the issue, the government said. A group of politicians from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and Federal Democratic Union gathered enough signatures last year to force the referendum, but the government opposes a ban. Switzerland is home to more than 300,000 Muslims – about four percent of the population – as well as hundreds of mosques, but only a handful of the mosques have a minaret tower and applications to build more prompted the campaign for a ban. Supporters of a ban say minarets do not have any religious justification but are symbols of Islamic power which injures Swiss constitutional rights to religious freedom. The right-wing SVP, the country’s biggest party which won 29% of the vote in the last election, has drawn accusations of racism for its anti-immigration campaigns, including one featuring white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag.The government said last year it was against a ban, saying it would violate international human rights and the country’s constitution and might incite tensions between religions and hinder integration of the Muslim population.

CFCM Condemns Protest Against Boubakeur In Front of the Paris Mosque

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du Culte Musulman) has firmly condemned the call to protest the Mosque of Paris’ rector and former head of the CFCM, Dalil Boubakeur, in response to his characterization of Israel in the touristic magazine, SVP-Israël.

Swiss Parliament Rejects Minaret Ban

The Swiss Senate overwhelmingly rejected on Friday, June 5, a proposal by right-wing parties for banning minarets in the central European country. “It is appalling to have a discussion in Switzerland about a minaret ban for ideological motives,” Radical Party Senator Dick Marty said, Swissinfo reported. By a 36-3 vote, the Senate rejected an initiative put forward by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) for referendum to ban minarets in Switzerland. “Certain values are simply not negotiable,” said Senator Marty. The move came two days after the House of Representatives rejected the right-wing proposal. The Swiss government has already come out against the far-right plan, branding it unconstitutional and discriminatory. The SVP and a small ultra-conservative Christian party launched a campaign last year to have the building of minarets banned in Switzerland. The far-right parties claim that a minaret is not necessary for worship but is rather a symbol of Islamic law which is incompatible with Switzerland’s legal system. The move has shocked Switzerland’s 350,000 Muslims, many of whom have been campaigning for decades for more recognition for their faith. Islam is the second religion in the country after Christianity; however Muslims are often the object of animosity. Mosques in Switzerland tend to be confined to disused warehouses and factories.