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Arab World: Reactions to the Swiss Ban on Minarets

On Sunday, November 29, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets atop mosques, paving the way for a constitutional amendment.  The referendum will affect the building of new minarets–not mosques–and will not effect Switzerland's four existing minarets.

The ban has sparked mixed reactions throughout the Arab and Muslim blogospheres: While some bloggers are outraged, others make the point that banning minarets does not hinder practicing the faith.

Lebanese-American Pierre Tristram, who blogs for About.com, opens a post with this paragraph, condemning the Swiss decision:

How can 59 million people be so dumb, Britain's Daily Mail famously asked in a day-after headline of the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. The Daily Mail can notch a new one for its shame gallery: How can 3 million Swiss be so bigoted?

Tristram closes with this scathing comment:  “The difference between your average Swiss and Iran‘s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the poster child of racist rants, has just gotten much narrower.”

Egyptian blogger Hicham Maged searches for an answer in his post, and concludes:

In a nutshell, I am looking forward for Swiss people to re-evaluate what happened; it is not only whether law protect citizen's rights or not, which is something important to debate and go for in the Swiss courts to correct for sure, but what is more important for me is that this fatal mistake should set up an alarm for not falling into the swamp of ignorance where nothing fill it but fear, anger and stupidity ~ Everywhere!

Another Egyptian blogger, whose blog is entitled Not Green Data, recognizes the credo that “a mosque is a mosque,” but laments the loss of the mosque's beauty in the Swiss ban:

Can you imagine a cube of Swiss Cheese, without its eyes – the holes in it? Or a Swiss Knife without the compass or the screwdriver? This is exactly what the Swiss people want to do with mosques. A mosque will remain a mosques without its Minarets, and it will still function the way it is supposed to function without them. But it will then loose its architectural identity and beauty.

British blogger Matthew Teller, a Middle East travel writer, focuses on the propaganda posters of various Swiss

A poster by the Swiss SVP calling for a ban of minarets

A poster by the Swiss SVP calling for a ban of minarets

campaigners, picking apart both sides of the battle in this post, describing the poster to the left:

The repulsive SVP, who’ve used what the Financial Times called “strident populism” to target ‘foreigners’ of all kinds in Switzerland as criminals, benefit cheats or worse, kicked off the campaign with the poster opposite: “Stop! Yes to the minaret ban”. Look at the imagery: minarets as missiles, women as menacing, the burqa as concealment, black as a threat, the Swiss flag cast into shadow from the east, the cross obliterated.

Algerian-American The Moor Next Door, seeing the ban as a power struggle, remarks:

The minaret, for its opponents, symbolizes Islam’s “arrival” in the Alps. It stands to proclaim the Muslim presence above other faiths and peoples. Banning it, then, is to ban a symbol of Muslim power and existence

The aesthetics of identity, and therefore power, are what the drive is really about. It is a way for a people in doubt to affirm and define their confused identity by rejecting that of the newcomer’s.

Syrian blogger Maysaloon has a unique perspective on what the most important narrative of this story is.  Setting aside the issues of bigotry, fear, and architectural integrity, the blogger makes the following point:

Neither Swiss bigotry, nor the religious or architectural significance of minarets are what is important about this story. What is important is that for the first time in 400 years, at least since the Ottomans besieged Vienna, Muslims are having a real impact on what is happening in Europe.

The blogger goes on to highlight the ways in which Islam has influenced the “west” and vice versa, concluding:

To sum it up, I am not worried about the bigots. Minarets and sharia can be banned, headscarves can be torn off, and all the cartoons in the world will not stop the fact that Islam is now in Europe, and it is in America, and it is spreading throughout the world.

To conclude, Mauritanian Twitter user weddady‘s comment on the end result of the referendum sums up well the sentiment of many.  He says, ” Now no one can pretend that Europe doesn't have a problem with Muslims, nor can anyone deny the extensive Islamist presence there.”

60 comments

  • Samir

    It is quite simple, when the Gulf States and other Arab countries allow the construction of churches on their soil the rest of the world will have nothing to fear from Islam or Muslims.

    • Samir
      The only Gulf country that does not permit churches is Saudi Arabia. I live in Bahrain, and within walking distance of my house there are five churches, a Hindu temple, and a synagogue (though the latter is no longer used).

  • J.L.

    Some places have banned head scarves or burqas saying they infringe on a woman’s freedom. If a woman chooses to wear a burqa that is her choice. Those who try to stop her from wearing what she wants are the ones who are taking her freedom away. I think it’s ridiculous that it’s okay in some places to walk around scantily clad but if you choose to cover yourself, it is forbidden. It is simply bigotry, nothing more.

    • Roderick

      I am afraid that most muslim women do not choose on their free will to wear a burqa, chador or a niqab, because those must be pretty unconfortable in hot climates.
      I am convinced that they fear social apartheid, verbal abuse from fellow muslims or even physical aggression from their relatives.
      The funny side is that men tend to wear whatever they choose, open shirts, shorts, and so on, but women…No! they must keep correct dress at all times! It is unfair, to say the least.

      • Roderick,

        I’m afraid that you are blissfully ignorant. Have you ever truly spoken to a Muslim woman? I have never actually met one who is forced to wear hijab, niqaab, or otherwise. I’m not denying they exist–they most certainly do–but they are neither the norm nor the majority.

        And most (observant) Muslim men don’t wear shorts or open shirts.

        Try having a conversation with a few practicing Muslims before you throw your stupid assumptions around.

  • Only racists are to blame for racism. Suggesting that Muslims should ask themselves why the Swiss fear them is grossly offensive, rather like those who suggest that if only the Jews had acted differently then the Nazis wouldn’t have gained power and the Holocaust would never have happened.

    Surprisingly common, that, to blame the victims for bringing the crime on themselves. Happens with rape too.

  • Webster

    Hicham, I’m glad at least you are asking.

    Re: “I suggest you read up on Swiss history…”
    I don’t need to read up on Swiss histroy. I know Swiss history. I know where the Headquarters of the International Red Cross is situated. I know why it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize twice. I know in which land the Internet was invented. I know a lot of things about Switzerland and its history. And I have listed some of them in my posts above which has resulted in my accused of saying thiings I have not said.

    I can count Muslims amongst my friends. I have been in many mosques. In these mosques and in Muslim homes I have been welcomed, even though ‘the book’ says I am an infidel.

    And so I have asked “Why?” because the “Why?” of it is the point. Why do nearly 60% (57.5% for the pedant) of Swiss fear the minarets of Islam. Until we nail down the “Why?” of it, we are merely talking around the subject.

  • First Of all, Im Muslim, and i dont really care if Switzerland (and later, Europe) bans Minarets : It’s their land and it’s their home.

    But, pretending that this Offense to european muslims has an explantion, you’re just thinking that we are dumb.

    Explaining a behavior doesn’t mean that we should accept it.

    Some of You think that Islam is Intolerant. But Who can Say That Europe Isn’t Intolerant ? This same Europe Who Killed its own children using Chemical Weapons, who produces enough weapons to destroy this world, who uses the Foreign man power when needed and throw it as a rubish at the end.

    The same Ignorance was used againg European Jews in the last century. Now, It’s Time for Muslims to taste the European “Tolerance”…

    And if i understood some of these bad-smelling comments : Swiss people are only victims of These (evil) Muslims

    • kactuz

      So if Muslims shopuld not accept this ban, why should Europeans accept Islamic restrictions?

      Once gain it is always funny to see Muslims compain about racism. This is a people that enslaved tens of millions for 1300 years. You dear prophet was a slaver, in case you don’t know. He enslaved men womern and children. I was already grown when Saudi end slavery in the 1960s. I said 1960s!!! The West, at least, recognizes the evils of slavery. I can’t say the same about Islam.

      And nobody said that Europe wasn’t intolerant. As for killing people with gas, ask the Iraquis and Iranians about this.

      No, you don’t understand these “bad-smelling comments,” Swiss people are NOT the only victims of Muslims. Muslims kill far more Muslims than they do non-Muslims. Read the paper today? How many killed in mosque at Rawalpindi, Pakistan? Where is the outrage? Of course it is just Muslims killing MUslims, just like Quran 9:111 mandates.

      The increasing intolerance we see against Muslims around the world is a reaction to Islamic hate, violence and discrimnation, nothing more. So the answer is easy: end Islamic hate, violence and discrimnation.

      Wont happen. Hasn’t anybody read the Quran here? It is all very clear

  • Freemind

    I would like to congratulate the Swiss people for their awesome decision! I am a muslim and my parents are elderly and get extremely nervous when the noise comes from minarets. They have to hear it 5 times a day and it gets worse in Ramadan. Now before you judge me consider this:
    Can Christians open up a church in Saudi Arabia and bang their church bells out loud many times a day? Can I walk in shorts in Riyadh? Noooooooooooooooooooo! Switzerland is part of Chrisondome (wrong spelling sorry!). They don’t want sound pollution in their country! They voted at least! Do we get to vote fairly in our countries?NOOOO. They can! Well done! Now lets talk about the Kuran: in Arabic the holy book says ” La Ikraha fil deen” = Forcing of religion on people is prohibited!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! READ IT AGAIN ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE A MUSLIM! We dont need men screaming their guts out cacaphonically through microphones to tell us to pray. God exists for all and by the way since we are not in the middle ages and the WATCH has been invented over 100 years ago with pda s you dont need Abu Draat (the fart man) to pollute the air. So get a grip and know your religion if you are a TRUE Muslim and learn the non-imposing your beliefs on others. Repect their country and thank them for letting you open a mosque. It is a holy place so respect yourself and stop confusing middle age islamist-inquisition shit with a great religion. Remember being close to God means being non-judgmental and loving towards everyone. Have repect for them and calm that angry heart of yours. It will not serve you to frown and judge. Be kind be loving be more like God.
    Dont fight about my God and your God. He is the same Cool guy lookin down at us. Take it easy Yaw!

  • Webster

    “only racists are to blame for racism”

    This debate has nothing to do with race. Race is not the issue. It has to do with the architecture and symbols of religion. We are in danger of straying off-topic here.

    What we ought to focus on is S W I T Z E R L A N D and the world’s, and our, reactions to the anti-minaret vote. (see original post headline above)

    One possible ‘reaction’, of course it may only be coincidence, arrived the very next day when two Swiss were sentenced to 16 months imprisonment in Libya. Their ‘crime’ was a technical one regarding visas.

    There has been a long-running diplomatic problem between Switzerland and Libya which appeared to begin when the Swiss authorities detained Hannibal Gaadafi, son of the leader, for 24 hrs. He was quickly released when the ‘mistake’ was pointed out by Libya. So that’s one reaction. This story will by now be all over the Swiss newspapers and in the editorials – proving, as it were, the public’s anti-minaret decision to be the correct one. It will only serve to exasperate the situation. But maybe that’s the intention. Who knows?

    Re E-Energumene’s spurious argument,- Switzerland has never engaged in “chemical” warfare or “killed its own children”.

  • Akhtarman

    Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan get much better treatment in Pakistan than Muslims get in Hindu India. Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, etc. have spaces reserved for religious minorities in Parliament. Can someone name this in a Christian nation or prominent Muslims in power as Boutrous-Ghali in Egypt or Tariq Aziz in Iraq? Of course not.

    The lack of new Churches in the Muslim world has to do with the lack of Christian staying in the Muslim world for a comfortable life in the West and because Christianity is not growing via birth rates in Muslim countries like Muslim populations in Europe. What is the Muslim world to do force Christians to have more babies just to have more churches?

    As for the war between the West and Islam. Why is no one talking about the terrorism coming from Christian countries in the West- mainly the US. As long as Christians are going around bombing Muslim countries, invading and occupyilng them illegally, raping their families, torturing them and stealing their oil, Christians will not be welcome and neither will Chuches- which were easily built decades ago.

    If the Muslim world hates Christians per se, than why is the Jamaican embassy in Saudi Arabia never bombed? Why not the Brazilian embassy or South Africa? Unfortunately enough, non-white Christians for a number of reasons (having lived under Colonialism, not feeling superior to olive skinned people, limited economic influence, etc. will never act like aggressive Imperialists like their white Christian counterparts in the UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and most recently the United States. Especially George “mission from God” Bush and his increasingly evangelical buddies in the US military. Now the fact that fanatical Jesus-freak Christian missionaries including military personnel are going into Afghanistan and Iraq to try to convert the population in “Jesus name” reveals who the fanatics and religious fascists really are.

    So many Christians speak of ‘tit for tat’. Does this mean that the Muslim world has as much right to invade Christian countries, bomb them into submission, build permanent basis there, rape some locals, destroy their churches, steal their oil and try to convert them to their religion as the “White” Judeo-Christian world has done to Muslim world???

    • Zareen

      You’ve got to be kidding me. I am an Indian Muslim, and I’m happy to be here. Part of my grandmother’s family who chose to go to Pakistan, regrets living the life of a Mujahir.

      About 1.2% of Pakistan is Hindu, and the bigoted anti-blasphemy laws make life miserable for the population.

      Nevermind the ridiculous laws you have in Pakistan against women – including the horrendous Hudood Ordinance, which – thank Allah was removed in 2006 – though your Imams still want the draconian law back. At least in India – criminal law is the same for Hindus and Muslims. Sure there are problems here – but in sum I’d prefer to live as a Muslim woman in India, than a woman belonging to any religion in Pakistan.

      If Pakistan wants to learn how to treat its minorities it needs to learn from Turkey.

      • kactuz

        Thank you, Zareen, for your comments. I was going to give Akhtarman a few facts about religious minorities in Pakistan after partition and the impact of the religion-based laws on the people of the Land of the Pure, but you have said it better. About 15-18% of what is now Pakistan was non-Muslim in 1947. What happened to them? Compare that with secular India’s treeatment of Muslims.

      • masihi banda

        Zareen,
        Thank you for your candid expressions and those uplifting words of freedom. I must say it’s quite rare to hear from a muslim woman who boldly challenges the mistreatment of women in the Islamic world. Many of my relatives were also disconnected during the partition. Unfortunately my Christian family stayed in West Pakistan where human rights of Christians are abused on daily basis.
        What I am about to write, and if I offend you in any way, I apologize in advance. You talk about some of your family is living in Pakistan as mujahirs, my christian community on the other hand, is living there as ‘persona-non-grata’, khana badosh, people living under a miserable captivity, a virtual slavery. The sharia and blasphmy laws are placed on the books, are there to eradicate the christians altogether. The Christians are treated as kafirs (infadels) under Islam. I have since moved to the United States and find peace and freedom at every step. Yet I feel so sad for my family and relatives I left behind. They constantly talk about of horrible stories of continued genocide and torture, nationalizing of christian schools, frequent church and home burnings, all this in the name of Allah. In 1965 war between India and Pakistan christians were declared as spies, arrested and their properties confiscated. My pastor was hanged upside down, beaten and tortured for days. Our Christian women are regularly abducted in Pakistan never to be seen again. All this leaves me very skeptical of human rights improvements for women under the Sharia laws. I know Islam does not permit learning from the past mistakes, and accepts no moderation, or reformation of any kind in its theory and practice. I wish you good luck, Khuda Hafiz.

  • Khalid

    im sorry for you, but you seem totally at a wrong ideology about islam take a look on history if you want to know who is careful with others religions, last cetury the christians in europ burned alive thousands of Jews and few century’s before when the Kingdom of Castill in spain invaded andalucia where Muslims were governing a perfect harmony of muslims christians and jews for one of the best harmony examples in the history religions, but once under spainsh kingdom millions of muslims were obliged to convert to christianity under order of the popes and later they all (millions of jews and Muslims) were expulsed from there to be a lost population where only muslims countries mainly morocco received, morocco also received even in last century thousand of european jews escaping for christian intolerance in Europe…and so on…. another exemple when the christians arrived to jerusalem they exterminated all muslims living in the city, few years later when muslims recuperated the city they did not the same even the situation was the same and many extremist voices of course asked for the same act. I do believe that many extremist muslims acts are wrong but many of them are political driven acts and not purely coming from islamic religion, there are also some traditional acts that are wrong but if you look to the soon past even in comunities in occdident and even actually there also full of bad acts and discriminating acts from may be extremists…Im ready for contradictory exemples (except 11 sept which I still believe that is a US conspiracy since since that date US is only gaining and occupying oily territories in middle east justified by that). By the way minaret in europe are even not allowed to call for prier.

    • jay kactuz

      Quote: “where Muslims were governing a perfect harmony of muslims christians and jews for one of the best harmony examples in the history religions”

      Is that so? Let me tell you about Spain in the Middle Ages. First you fail to mention it was invaded by Muslims. That means killing and conquest. Contrary to what you say, only some Christian churches and practices were allowed, subject to restrictions. Non-Muslims had to pay special taxes. Also look up “Martyrs of Cordoba” on Google. It is about Muslims killing Catholics in Spain. During this time the Caliph continued to ravage neighboring Christian kingdoms. In 1 raid against Lisbon (1189) the caliph took 3,000 female and child slaves. When you mention Jerusalem, don’t forget what Muslims did in Constantinople. Better yet, consider the Muslim conquest and domination of India, the greatest genocide in history. Islam exterminated the Buddhists in all of South Asia. It might have been a golden age for Islam, but not non-Muslims

      I also refer you to the life of Maimonides (the Rambam), the most famous jew of the middle ages. He was born in Al-Andalus but the massacre of all Jews in Granada (1066) by the Muslim Almoravids and Almohads (who gave Christians and Jews the choice of conversion to Islam or death) caused Maimonides to go to Christian Spain (oppressed), then to Morocco (persecution), then the Holy Land (oppression) and then finally to Egypt, where he became physician to Salidin. The Rambam is noted for his letters send to comfort Jews being persecuted in Muslim lands. I quote the Letter to Yemen: “Never has such harm been done to our people (Jews) as done by this race (Muslims)”.

      Now let me give credit where credit is due. Very often during the Middle Ages Muslim societies were more “tolerant” than Christian Societies. This was considered the “Golden Age” of medieval Islam. Why? First of all they stimulated culture and learning. Almost all the hadith and great works of Islamic history, theology and philosophy were written at this time. Muslim scholars translated Greek writers to Persian and Arabic. They studied Sanskrit (Indian) works on natural science, math and medicine. Most of all, they accepted and worked with Jewish, Christian, Persian and Hindu intellectuals and artists. They were also far from Mecca and the direct influence of the Purists that make Islam the only source of knowledge (Kharijites, Salafis, Wahabbis, etc…). More about these below…

      So what happened to Andalusia and Islam? Consider the case of Ibn Rushd (called Averroes by Europeans), a great Muslim Andalusian polymath. Based primarily on Aristotle, Averroes argued the separation of science from theology. This did not go over well, since under Islamic theology everything is by definition subordinate to Islam. This caused him to lose favor in court and his influence disappeared – except in the West. His work was incorporated into the foundations of secularism in the West.

      What Muslims like to call “tolerant,” in the case of Andalusia and the Abbasids, is not how we use the word today. It doesn’t mean that non-Muslims were equal or could practice their religions without discrimination. It meant they were “tolerated” and were subjected to discrimination and even persecuted at times. This type of tolerance is nothing to be proud of.

      Everywhere today the teachings of Ibn Taymiya (1263-1328) are growing in Islam. This man taught that coexistence with non-Muslims is anathema. He also condemns so-called moderate Muslims that reject jihad and sharia as affront to Allah. This idea of “return to the pure Islam” is known as Salafism (from “predecessors” or “early generations” in Arabic) is based on the belief that the pious ancestors (Salaf) are the only true example of the real Islam.

      The Salafis control Islam. If you go to a mosque is the West, you probably go to one built with Wahabbi money and Salafi Imams. So, Muslims, under the influence of Fundamentalists, rejected coexistence, science, secularism and all the freedoms recognized in the West. The so-called moderates talk about “retaking Islam” from the radicals but they can’t because these have the Quran and ahadith on their side. As Islam becomes more fundamentalist, it becomes more hateful and intolerant. When non-Muslims react to this hate and violence, Muslims complain of “intolerance”. Too little Ibn Rushd, too much Ibn Taymiya.

      See Khalid, the difference is that we in the West recognize our faults and failings. Now will you condemn the hate and violence in the Quran and the evil doings of your prophet? I think that is a fair question and it is at the heart of this situation in Switzerland. Why should a people (Swiss) be respectful to another people (Muslims) that can be directly linked by ideology to violence and domination and that also refuse to be honest about their own history and theology?

      I hope you appreciate the history lesson.

  • The answer is really simple. Don’t buy any Swiss products or services and boycott them into poverty. No nation can survive merely selling goods and services to Western countries. The West has already been supplanted by China and the Asian countries for manufacturing. What else do the Swiss have to sell? People in the Middle East,Africa, and South America have been boycotting American cars for quite some time. We can destroy ANY economy without firing a shot. Time for economic war against the Swiss.Winter is upon us,let’s not ship them any oil or natural gas,or better yet, lets make them pay more for it or freeze.

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