Switzerland not a Top Target for Terrorism

A recent conference held by the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich has restated the belief that Switzerland is not a top target for international terrorism.
While some participants called for caution concerning the very term “terrorism,” Guido Steinberg from the Berlin Foundation of Science and Politics warned that given the growth of the Islamist terrorist scene in Germany and the close connections between German-speaking countries, Switzerland ought to remain vigilant. In addition, the vice-director of the Swiss intelligence services Jürg S. Bühler spoke about so-called “control crimes,” and the need to be able to keep watch over the concerned segments of society.

Religious Pluralism in Swiss Prisons

A recent study by the Swiss National Sciences Foundation has found that religious pluralism in Swiss prisons does not lead to the same kind of conflicts that occur in French and British prisons. Catholic and Protestant prison chaplains have long been integrated into the Swiss institutional framework; however, given that the number of Muslim prisoners has risen significantly over the last years, prisons have been facing increasingly diversified challenges to respond to Muslim concerns.
Certain practices have led to more difficulties than others: halal meat (sometimes only provided if the prisoners can pay for it themselves); fasting during the month of Ramadan; appropriate spaces for daily prayers; and the organization of regular religious services. In the latter case, in a number of prisons imams do come to deliver sermons, however they are not integrated into the prison system. For example, in one prison in the canton of Vaud, one third of the prisoners are Muslims and two imams come to deliver sermons on Fridays. However, neither of them is officially recognized and their work is entirely voluntary.
Furthermore, the study found that although religious diversity might not lead to interfaith conflicts, Muslims remain stigmatized. This was found to be the case especially among the prison personnel, who would frequently bring up stereotypes concerning Islam and Muslims without having been explicitly asked a question on the subject.
The study concludes by recommending greater religious understanding on the part of the personnel; an adaptation of the legal framework to better reflect the current demographic reality; and finally conceptualizing the role of prison chaplains so as to encourage more interreligious capacities. The latter would benefit greatly from encouraging special prison chaplain courses of study at universities, such as the Master’s program that exists at the University of Bern.
Swiss National Science Foundation – National Research Program 58:
Report on the Sociological Challenges of Religious Plurality in Swiss Prisons (French)

New Muslim Organization under Discussion

13 March 2011

Two of Switzerland’s largest Muslim federations have announced their plans to found a new religious organization with the goal of representing all Muslims in Switzerland. According to the president of the Federation of Swiss Islamic Organizations (FIDS) Hisham Maizar, the new organization is to be called the “Swiss Umma,” and will be formed together with the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (KIOS).
Maizar stated as well that another of the main goals would be to improve the image of Islam in Switzerland. The two organizations plan to create a type of parliament, whose members would be voted in by the 400 000 Muslims in Switzerland. The first election is planned for the beginning of 2012 at the latest, while a commission has already been established so as to ensure that the statutes of the new organization are in accordance with both Islamic and Swiss public law.

“There Have Been Many Mistakes in our Integration Policy”

6 February 2011

In a recent interview, the Swiss Minister of Justice Simonetta Sommaruga has stated that the debate on immigration and integration in Switzerland needs to move beyond slogans such as “Foreigners Out!” or “Foreigners In!” Swiss citizens need to have a more engaged interest in politics, and not simply resort to “symbolic” initiatives, such as the minaret ban. Citizens have understandable reasons to feel uncomfortable, given globalization and a degree of criminality linked to foreigners, however the problem is especially when there is no contact between the two groups.

In general, Sommaruga states that there have been many mistakes made in past integration policies. In order to begin to correct these problems, Switzerland must not only attract more high-qualified workers, but also help less-qualified workers be more “fit” for the labor market, by encouraging integration and language-learning.

Pro- and Anti-Minaret Groups Launch New Initiatives

November 29, 2010

Precisely one year following the Swiss referendum banning minarets in 2009, the Swiss Islamic Central Council (IZRS) has announced that it wishes to hold another national referendum in order to remove the minaret ban from the constitution. No other Muslim organizations were consulted with regard to this plan, which had been kept secret due to tactical considerations.
Leaders of the IZRS stated that not even a ruling against Switzerland in the European Court of Human Rights would achieve would Muslims in Switzerland need, and that only way to fight the ban is by holding another referendum. Oscar Bergamin, political consultant for the IZRS, believes that there are good chances to win a second referendum, since the ban is discriminatory and unfairly singles out Muslim places of worship.
The very same day that the IZRS made their announcement, the Anti-Minaret Committee led by Ulrich Schüler of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) presented a manifesto in Berne against the Islamicization of Switzerland. The document emphasizes Switzerland’s Christian heritage and gives voice to the group’s frustration that the government has not been implementing the minaret ban, especially in the case of the Langenthal minaret project. The document goes on to denounce all practices of sharia law, and calls for all Muslims wishing to become Swiss citizens to pledge allegiance to the constitution and the laws of the country.

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.

Winterthur Approves Muslim Cemetery

November 1-9, 2010

Following Bern, Lucerne and Zurich, the city of Winterthur will soon become the latest Swiss city to have a Muslim section in the local cemetery. The project has been planned since 2008, and following a unanimous vote in the city council it will also receive a loan of 1.53 million Swiss francs. If, as expected, the project passes the communal council, Muslim burials could begin as soon as 2011.
12 per cent of the population of Winterthur is Muslim, and the new 380 graves were supported by all except one member of the Christian Democrats (CVP) who argued that it would symbolize yet another form of separation. Nevertheless, even the far-right Swiss People’s Party came out in support of the project, stating that “we don’t always have to be against everything.”

Minaret Ban Was No Mistake

29 October 2010
Almost one year following the referendum to ban minarets in Switzerland, a survey commissioned by the Protestant newspaper Reformiert and carried out by Isopublic seems to indicate that the results of the Swiss minaret ban would be similar were the vote to be held again today: 43% of the 1004 individuals from German and French-speaking Switzerland interviewed responded that they would vote for the ban, while 46.4% responded that they would vote against the ban.
However, given the fact that all earlier surveys before the 2009 ban had put the percentage of supporters at 37%, and after taking into consideration the effective emotional campaigning and mobilizing techniques of the minaret opponents, the results of this survey seem to indicate rather that the gap between the two camps has shrunk – especially amongst those in higher income brackets, who would more readily support the ban today than last year.
While almost half of respondents claimed that minaret ban had changed nothing, only 5.4% considered it to have had a positive effective, compared with the 40.2% who believe it to have had a negative effective on Swiss society. The latter group highlighted a growing polarization of Swiss society, heightened suspicions with regard to Muslims, lower acceptance of otherness, and generally negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.
Finally, somewhat surprisingly, two-thirds of French Swiss and 15-34-year-olds both responded negatively to the question “Do you perceive there to be an anti-Muslim sentiment in Switzerland?” while more than half of German Swiss and 55-74-year-olds responded positively. In total, 47.2% of respondents answered negatively to the same question, while 48.9% agreed that they perceived such a feeling today in Switzerland, for example in the debates over the burqa or Muslim cemeteries.
Reformiert (German)
For the survey: http://www.reformiert.info/files_reformiert/5283_0.pdf

Young Muslims in Geneva

2 November 2010

Religion does not constrain friendship for a number of young Swiss students at the University of Geneva. In the case of Karim, a Muslim, and Flavio, who is Catholic, religion and culture are to be respected and recognized, but in no way pose any problems. For Karim, Flavio is someone with whom he has more in common than someone with whom he might have attended Arabic school since childhood, while Flavio sees nothing wrong with waiting at the door while Karim’s mother or sister puts on a headscarf if he comes to visit.
Similarly for Shaimaa, who is Muslim, and Emmanuelle, who does not practise any religion, but comes from a Christian family, their differences are seen rather as something which enriches their relationship. Aside from exchanging Egyptian cookies and Christmas biscuits, they consider the values and cultural background that both have grown up with as important elements to respect and preserve.

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).