Switzerland: Quo Vadis?

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Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland
Minaret in Serrières, Switzerland

It was the first Sunday of Advent and a black day for everyone who cherishes the values of enlightenment. It was unexpected since everyone seemed to be against it: almost all political parties, the national churches, representatives of the economy and many other organizations.

But it happened still: The Swiss banned the construction of minarets in yesterday’s vote.

Reactions after the result were impressive. Within minutes I received text messages and Facebook group invitations from all sorts of people. One of the groups is “I am ashamed of the results of the Anti-Minaret initiative!.” When I wanted to invite more friends to join I realized that they were all already there – from the most conservative to the most liberal people I know.

Within a day tens of thousands of people had joined the group. Many immediately updated their Facebook status: “What a shock!” “This is it: I emigrate,” “Could we solve problems instead of fighting symbols please!” “Swiss Muslims live in a foreign country – but only since today,” “I am speechless,” “Switzerland what have you done???!!!!!!” etc.

Spontaneous demonstrations took place in Zurich and Bern and people even constructed little minarets and placed them on their balconies to show their disappointment with the outcome.

But the majority had spoken. Fifty-three percent of the population went to the ballot box. This is clearly above the average. Only the cantons of Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Basel City voted against the initiative. Zurich’s outcome was relatively tight. There was not only a clear divide between the French-speaking part of Switzerland that was mainly against the minaret ban and the rest of the country but also between urban and rural areas: While most big cities voted against the initiative, the countryside was clearly in favor of banning minarets. In other words: Where the least Muslims live the most they are feared.

Muslims proved to be the better democrats

The constitution of one of the world’s first liberal democracies will single out one specific religious community and prevent it from building their houses of worship the way they would like to. This is simply not worthy of a country that is proud of its heterogeneity, a country that hosts the Human Rights Council, chairs the Council of Europe and has a constitution whose preamble starts out so promisingly:

“The Swiss People […] resolved to renew their alliance so as to strengthen liberty, democracy, independence and peace in a spirit of solidarity and openness towards the world, determined to live together with mutual consideration and respect for their diversity […] and in the knowledge that only those who use their freedom remain free, and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members, adopt the following Constitution.”

Switzerland’s Muslim community, which has been living peacefully in this country for many decades, gave us a lesson in democracy. Provocations during the campaign only came from those who launched the federal popular initiative against minarets. The Muslims and their umbrella organizations not only reacted sober mindedly when Geneva’s mosque was damaged two weeks ago but also after the outcome of the vote was published.

Many Swiss are ashamed

This morning I wrote emails to my Muslim friends all over the world and apologized. Many haven’t answered yet and those who did made me feel even worse: “I really appreciate your feelings,” “Don’t worry – anyway, how is work?” “You live in a democratic country – that’s the way it is,” “Don’t worry, my dear. God bless you. ”

Different Muslim and secular groups are now considering taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights in Strassbourg. Jurists say they have a good chance to win their case. Either way, I think our image as a credible defender of freedom, democracy and human rights is suffering.

A man was quoted in today’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung as saying: “I am 66 years old now and this is the first time I feel ashamed to be Swiss.”

He is not the only one.

4 replies on “Switzerland: Quo Vadis?”

Assalam-O-Alaikum(May Allah’s blessings on you):

Why people all over the world are so frightened with Islam. Islam is a religion of Peace and whoever is committing the acts of violance and terrorism against innocent people is not a Muslim. Good and bad people are every where and in every religion,but this doesn’t means that the whole community is the same. A propaganda about Islam has ever been carried out in the west that Islam is the religion of violence and terrorism. This is a baseless allegation on Islam and the whole Muslim Community. Allah says in Holy Quran that “There is no force(compulsion) in religion”. Than how Muslims can be the torch bearer of violance and terrorism? Instead Muslims are the victims of violance and terrorism around the world.
Presence of all the religions in a country makes the country’s culture more diversified and democratic.
This is my message to all the people belonging to different religions that please study Islam and don’t listen to the short slogans about Islam.

I think there has been a huge confusion on this initiative. According to interviews conducted by the french speaking swiss TV, many people that voted yes did so because of a) the Qaddafi affairs b) the fear of fundamentalism c) the place of women in Islam. So there is a huge mistake on the purpose of the voting. People didn’t voted in favor of a initiative to ban the minarets, they voted against Qaddafi and against religious fundamentalism. This is more an emergency call by the majority of the population that doesn’t understand what we want them to vote on and what is going on within the globalization.

I think this voting questions the direct democracy as it is right now. Is the people competent enough to vote on such topic? Should we “force” everyone willing to vote to follow 1 hour of “lesson” about the topic that will be voted on? Should we change the direct democracy and trust only the elected people in Bern?

I felt a mix of anger and shame when watching “Tagesschau” on Swiss television yesterday. Reporters interviewed passer-bys asking them for the reason they voted no and none could actually come up with a viable argument for their case. I would have expected that at least someone would be able to state a point which I could respect but I was utterly disappointed.

Certainly, Swiss right-wing parties played with people’s fears and the other parties did not react stronly enough to counteract the outcome. But apart from that (or maybe even more so because of it) this vote showed substantial flaws in the Swiss democratic system. As someone mentioned yesterday when I talked to him, his reason to vote for the ban was not the topic as such (which he would not agree upon neither), but to test the Swiss law system. In his words: “I want to see that the tension between a valid Swiss constitution and the European charta of human rights is being solved once and for all by legal means”. Truly an interesting argument, but the price Switzerland has to bear for it is in my opinion too high.

I wonder how much of this is down to voter apathy precisely among those groups that would have opposed it the most? If younger, urban residents opposed it, I wonder if we could get stats on their voting behavior?

The saddest thing about this is that it is so fundamentally unnecessary. After all, the amendment will simply attack a symbol and not address any of the issues that arise as a result of different religions cohabiting a shared space (some of which are perfectly legitimate, for example the wearing of veils by teachers etc). The right wing simply used ignorance as a tool and the minarets as a convenient rallying cry against a religion and, as you point out, a community that has lived in peace in Switzerland for decades. I’m hard pressed to find a single reasonable argument for this ridiculous show of collective and hyped up fear.

A sad day indeed.

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