January 2010 
Year 16    No.147

Banning minarets in Switzerland

Let us recognise the courage of those 42.5 per cent who supported the minority Muslims and the
Swiss government that stood in the way of extremists


In a surprising development, Swiss voters approved a constitutional ban on minarets, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers
in a referendum held (on November 29, 2009). The referendum held on the demand of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which labels minarets symbols of rising Muslim political power, was approved 57.5 to 42.5 per cent, by some 2.67 million voters. Muslims comprise about six per cent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people. Amnesty International termed the vote a violation of freedom of religion and demanded that the Swiss Supreme Court intervene and overturn the outcome before it is made part of the Constitution.

The ban has attracted worldwide criticism questioning Switzerland’s self-image of tolerance and multiculturalism. The UN’s special rapporteur on religious freedom, Asma Jahangir, condemned the ban on new minarets and termed it a clear discrimination against members of the Muslim community in Switzerland. Legal experts are of the opinion that the ban on the Islamic towers is not compatible with the country’s Constitution and international human rights laws and will be struck down by the Swiss Supreme Court.

Although the Swiss government opposed the ban, it is bound to respect the outcome of the popular vote unless the court of law declares it unconstitutional or the European Court of Human Rights declares it contradictory to the European Convention on Human Rights. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called the ban an example of growing anti-Islamic incitement in Europe by the extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scaremongering ultra-right politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values.

The most interesting statement came from a Turkish state minister, Egemen Ba???, who is also Turkey’s chief negotiator in European Union (EU) accession talks, calling upon Muslims to withdraw their money from Swiss banks. "I am certain this vote will prompt our brothers from Muslim countries who keep their money and investments in Swiss banks to review their decision of choosing Swiss banks. The doors of the Turkish banking sector are always open to them," he said.

There can be no crueller joke than expecting from our ‘Muslim brothers’ that they will withdraw their money from Swiss banks. They get kickbacks in international deals ranging from buying weapons for their nations’ defence to medicines and vaccines for children and deposit them in Swiss banks. They loot and plunder their own nations, manipulate their tax returns and get commissions from roads, bridges, hospitals and even embezzle from international aid for natural disasters and deposit all this in Swiss banks.

Expecting the ‘Muslim brothers’ to withdraw that ‘blood money’ gathered by risking the lives of millions of innocents from their own nations does not make much sense. According to some reports, the oil-rich Muslim brothers from the Middle East own almost 25 per cent of US assets. At the same time, the OIC condemns the US for destroying two brotherly Islamic states and being responsible for destabilising many others by sponsoring ‘holy warriors’ for its dream of becoming the sole superpower in the world.

Muslim majority states, most of these rich with natural resources, offer much higher returns on investment, as they need funds for infrastructure development, exploration, agriculture, education and health care. To their disappointment, the oil-rich Muslim brothers prefer to invest their money in the failing Citibank, Lehman Brothers and US arms companies. Millions of Muslim brothers in Asia and Africa die due to lack of health care and undernourishment and even become terrorists because of lack of education and employment.

It is no secret that the ‘infidel’ West spends billions of dollars every year for poverty alleviation, education, health care, vaccinations and social uplift in Muslim countries. Our own Muslim brothers from the ‘ummah of the pure’ spend several times as much on buying diamond-laced Rolls Royces and in the casinos of Las Vegas. While infidels like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the richest men in the world, gave their entire assets for charity, the richest Muslims in the world ordered an Air Bus A380 to be converted into a flying palace.

No doubt there are extremists in every society but they do not represent the entire society or a religion. They do have the power to manipulate public sentiment and there is a bias in the West against Muslims. After the London bombings and foiled attempts at terrorism, many countries in Europe have been debating the issue of integrating their Muslim populations. German plans to construct the largest mosque in Cologne drew huge protests; France was criticised for the ban on headscarves and the Danish authorities came under fire for the blasphemous cartoons.

Let us be honest with ourselves. After some incidents of suicide bombings, the flogging of a young girl in Swat and desecration of the grave of the saint Pir Baba in Swat, public opinion about the much glorified holy warriors changed. Public pressure became so immense that the government was left with no option but to take decisive action against the terrorists. The establishment and religious parties who created and supported the Taliban were not able to bail them out despite all their manipulations and rhetoric to defend their actions.

Understanding the referendum outcome in Switzerland is not difficult. Extremists in any society are a very small minority; they cannot manipulate public opinion unless there is popular recognition of the issue. The people of Switzerland are liberal, open-minded and well educated. They have access to information and are able to think independently before making any decision. The much needed material to convince them is available in abundance on jihadist websites and in the form of sermons by so-called Muslim scholars. These extremists from our own society justify beheadings, flogging, suicide attacks and the killing of innocents with references from the holy Koran.

The vote for approval is 57.5 to 42.5 per cent among some 2.67 million Swiss voters. Nobody with even a little sanity is going to believe that 57.5 per cent of Swiss voters are extremists. The people of Switzerland deserve appreciation, as the Muslim population is only six per cent while the vote against the ban has been 42.5 per cent. This reflects that there is a vast part of the population from other religions that is able to think and decide freely and has rejected the extremist propaganda. Unfortunately, in the entire Muslim world we do not see similar behaviour. The conspiracy theorists in Muslim societies, backed by state influence, not only preach hatred in our own societies but also provide support to hate preachers in the West through their extremist views.

We can win back the support of the masses not only in Switzerland, France and the rest of the world but we have to condemn terrorism, extremism and reject violence in all its forms univocally. Those inside our societies who justify violence with references from the holy book are our enemies. Let us recognise the courage of those 42.5 per cent who supported the minority Muslims and the Swiss government that stood in the way of extremists.

The request from the Turkish minister to pull out deposits from Swiss banks is not going to work. We can defeat extremists by convincing the people of Switzerland that Islam is not related to violence. Those who justify violence in the name of Islam are not our representatives. If we are able to defeat these elements, winning back the support of the masses in western societies will not be very difficult. Unfortunately, those who believe in peace, non-violence and modernity in Muslim societies are unorganised and their voices are weak. Our support should be with the Swiss government, which still stands for human rights and freedom of religion, and those who rejected the extremists’ propaganda and voted against the ban.

(Marvi Sirmed is an independent blogger at www.marvisirmed.com and an Islamabad-based political analyst. This article was posted on the Daily Times website on December 7, 2009.)

Courtesy: Daily Times; www.dailytimes.com.pk


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