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The Swiss Minaret Test - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Swiss are the most tolerant and open-minded people in Europe; this is due to the make-up of their country which is comprised of a blend of three peoples, and so [Switzerland] is a country that speaks German, French and Italian. There is no other country in the world that is made up of the same ingredients and which has lived in peace under one roof for hundreds of years. The ban on minaret construction in Switzerland represents a test for two categories [of Swiss society], firstly the blend of Europeans that make up the population of Geneva, and secondly the Muslim community; this is a great test for all, the Muslims and others.

This time I can confidently say that the Muslims have succeeded where in the past they have failed, and this is in dealing with issues that they feel are against them, which is something that only serves to provoke them, whether this is religiously, politically, or personally. We are aware that many Muslims suffer from a general feeling of persecution, sometimes legitimately, and sometimes illegitimately, but there can be no doubt that the vote to ban minarets frustrated the Muslim population.

The Muslims may have lost [the right] to build minarets, but despite this they succeeded because they did not burn flags or threaten anybody and they did not take part in noisy demonstrations in 40 countries across the world. The majority voted against them in Switzerland, with 57 percent voting to ban the construction of minarets, and this committed the Swiss government to [implement] this despite its opposition to this measure because the Swiss system is based upon the referendum of its citizens on every detail, and this is more than is done in other European countries.

The Muslims have won because their objection was logical, constitutional, moral, and cultural; it was a protest without noise or controversy or attacks. Why was this response so calm? Is this because only the building of minarets is forbidden, and not the construction of mosques or schools? Or have they become bored of protests and demonstrations? Or is it because the Muslims in Switzerland constitute one of the smallest Muslim minorities in Europe, and number just 400,000? Or is there a greater awareness and understanding of the laws and dynamics of political action in this politically-free country?

I believe that all of the above is correct, and the most important thing in my opinion is that there is a growing awareness among the Islamic leaders that expressing anger to the public in a violent manner does not achieve anything, and only serves to harm the reputation of all Muslims. The Swiss politicians that raised their objections to this law and its results repeated an important point which is that the public reaction to the referendum was a result of the Muslims bad image. While it is wrong to punish a group of people for the actions of individuals, this is the reality of life [for Muslims] in the non-Muslim world, and the Muslims are suffering an image crisis not just in Europe and America, but in Russia, China, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. However what distinguishes countries like Switzerland is that they are open minded, and listen to opinions from multiple perspectives, and now the far right has triggered a campaign of intimidation against mosques and minarets and Muslims in general, and was successful in gaining votes but only by a small majority. This means that if the Muslim leadership had explained their position and reassured the Swiss, they may have succeeded in redressing the balance in favour of minaret construction etc. All that was needed was six percent of votes to change their minds. This result is not bad considering the intimidation campaign versus no campaign at all from the other.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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