March 19, 2014
The reactions of German media towards the result of the Swiss referendum were immense. Most comments by German media outcried their “shock” about the negative attitudes of parts of the Swiss population towards immigrants. Some journalists were caught off guard, without reflecting their own work, asking how biased media coverage on immigrants has become. While selecting topics for the news, majority of media representatives choose issues such as the “headscarf”, “migration into the welfare system” and “minarets” issues. Just as “bad news are good news”, contributions that mirror the economic, cultural and social vibrant lives of immigrants are hard to find. Immigrants and their issues are relatively represented at the local level, speaking out their claims in local media. They are clearly underrepresented in media at the national, which has a greater influence on the German public opinion.
Recent German media coverage on immigrants and Islam has been very negative. With regards to the upcoming elections for the European parliament, media representatives are responsible to report fair, balanced and comprehensive when covering stories about immigrants. This is said to be the only path for media to avoid the indirect support for right-wing populist parties, which scapegoat immigrants for their political interests.
In the past few years, many European states have seen the establishment of a national body to represent their respective Muslim population.
Unlike Christianity, Islam does not have a representative and organizational body like the church, which makes it difficult for political institutions to have a contact person for dialogue. Such national representative bodies are now at work in, for instance, France and Germany.
The idea of a single body representing the country’s diverse Muslim groups is one of a number of hot topics now doing the rounds in Switzerland, which is still reeling from the surprise anti-minaret vote two weeks ago. For Stéphane Lathion, head of a research group on Islam in Switzerland at Lausanne University, focusing on a national Muslim umbrella organization right now would be like “putting the cart before the horse”.
“The priority is building ties on a daily basis between Muslim associations and the Swiss population at the local level; not just annual open-door events or inter-religious dialogue, but getting people to talk together more and for associations to take position on specific Muslim issues as well as on social issues regarding the whole of society,” says Lathion.
Authorities in the Swiss capital, Bern, on Friday said they had turned down a project for Europe’s largest Islamic cultural and economic centre in a zone that is being redeveloped. The city council said a 34-hectare (84-acre) area on the northern outskirts was earmarked exclusively for a new regional hospital and office or commercial use, the Swiss news agency ATS reported. The Islamic centre was one of several building projects under consideration for the zone. City authorities said a religious building was not suitable at that location. The 60 million Swiss francs (36 million euros, 50 million dollars) project for a 23,000 square metre (27,700 square yard) “platform for Islam” would include a congress centre, a four-star hotel, a museum, and a mosque, said Farhad Afshar, a Bern university professor and spokesman for Islamic organisations involved in the project. Bern city councillor Barbara Hayoz said that there was no land in the city that could house the project for the moment. She underlined that city authorities supported dialogue between different cultures and faiths. There are about 311,000 Muslims among the 7.5 million strong Swiss population, according to official statistics. Most of them are originally from the Balkans.