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Arab World: Reactions to the Swiss Ban on Minarets

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Europe, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Mauritania, Switzerland, Syria, Breaking News, Development, Elections, Ethnicity & Race, Governance, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Migration & Immigration, Religion, Women & Gender

On Sunday, November 29, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a ban [1] 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 [2] with this paragraph, condemning the Swiss decision:

How can 59 million people be so dumb, Britain's Daily Mail famously asked [3] 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 [4]‘s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [5], the poster child of racist rants [6], has just gotten much narrower.”

Egyptian blogger Hicham Maged searches for an answer in his post, and concludes [7]:

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 [8] 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 [9] the poster to the left:

The repulsive SVP [10], who’ve used what the Financial Times called “strident populism [11]” 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 [12]:

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 [13]:

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 [14], ” Now no one can pretend that Europe doesn't have a problem with Muslims, nor can anyone deny the extensive Islamist presence there.”