Religious Organizations De-Escalate Tensions Around Islam

8 March 2012

A research project by members of the University of Amsterdam has concluded that religious organizations provide a source of de-escalation in tensions around Islam in the Netherlands. Commissioned by the justice ministry’s Scientific Research and Documentation Centre (WODC), the project studied five cases of criticism of Islam in western countries, including the Swiss minaret ban (2009), the anti-Islam film Fitna (2008), the Danish cartoon affair (2005-2006). Researchers analyzed the public reactions of Islamic, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist organizations and their leaders. Researcher Gerard Wiegers commented that in their responding to these instances of criticism, “the original and inventive approach of some Islamic organizations has pleasantly surprised us.”

Switzerland Cited in US Report on Religious Freedoms

November 18, 2010

Switzerland has been cited in a recent US report on threats to religious freedoms in the world. While normally the report focuses on countries such as North Korea, Iran, China, and Burma, according to US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, “several European countries have imposed severe restrictions on religious expression.” The Swiss minaret ban was highlighted as an example of these restrictions by the US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Michael Posner, as well.

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.

Yearbook published on Islamophobia in German-speaking countries

The Austrian publisher Studienverlag has published a yearbook of research on Islamophobia in the German-speaking countries (Jahrbuch für Islamophobieforschung 2010: Deutschland, Österreich, Schweiz). It is an introduction to the academic use of the term “Islamophobia” and includes recent empirical examples such as the courtroom murder of Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini or the Swiss minaret ban. Further case studies derive from the fields of media, politics, law, discrimination in everyday life and theoretic reflections.

“Switzerland is the most open country in the World” – Swiss president leuthard

Following criticism from Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger concerning the ongoing diplomatic conflict between Switzerland and Libya, Swiss Federal President Doris Leuthard has retorted that Switzerland simply expects solidarity from other members of the Schengen zone, as it is a member itself. Leuthard also defended the Swiss minaret ban as sign that the Swiss people wish for the country’s Christian heritage and local rules to be respected, while at the same time she vehemently denied that Switzerland was hostile to Islam, and emphasized that the ban did not affect religious freedom. Moreover, she highlighted that Switzerland continues to be an open country with one of the largest populations of foreigners in Europe, which in general is well integrated, and its openness continues to be one of the reasons for its continuing positive economic performance.

National Front Party accused of copying Swiss minaret ban propaganda poster

Several commentators have noted the similarity of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front posters against Islamism in France to those in the anti-minaret campaign in Switzerland in November 2009. Please see the article to compare the images.

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.

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.