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Burqa Committees and Minaret Referenda - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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One does not really know how to respond to news stories that seem to evoke the Middle Ages in the West when the inquisition against Muslims reigned: books were burned, mosques demolished, Muslims Christianized, innovators burned or drowned for suspicion of being witches…One hears about setting up committees, hearings and discussions about wearing the burqa or the veil and about the sacrificial slaughtering of sheep in Europe which was once the continent of freedoms. We hear about the Swiss referendum which ended up with a scandalous 57 percent of those claiming to advocate freedom of worship supporting a ban on building minarets. There is also news of a growing number of those who oppose building mosques and minarets in France.

An opinion poll in France showed that the number of those who oppose building not only minarets, but mosques altogether is on the rise compared to eight years ago: 22 percent in 2001compared to 41 percent in the last poll. The number of those who do not oppose building mosques dropped to 19 percent which is the lowest in a quarter century. The contagion is expected to spread to other European countries amidst expectations of an extremist right victory in more than one European country and with the mid-term elections of the US congress projected to bring extremist republicans back to majority, weakening Obama’s grip on congress.

Future policies in the West and their repercussions aside, the decision to ban minarets in Switzerland – although churches there have towers similar to Moroccan minarets – under the guise of popular democracy, is a violation of the human right of freedom to worship, the simplest and oldest right ever practiced by humans all over the world. For Muslims in the Middle East, who lived for thousands of years with mosques and churches next to each other, and the Sunday masses and church bells mixing with the Muslim call for prayer and Friday prayers, the Swiss decision seems a form of heinous racism against Islam and Muslims. We had assumed that all of this was part of the darkness of the European past of ignorance, backwardness and racial fanaticism; all of which were supposed to have been dissipated by the light of democracy and the human rights charter long advocated by the West, which claims to put pressure on “less civilized countries” to respect.

The strange thing is that the countries that give themselves the right to issue lists naming countries practicing religious discrimination against followers of other religions have not taken the trouble of adding Switzerland to this list of countries that discriminate on religious grounds against Muslims in Switzerland. Neither did they criticize the debate going on against Muslims in France and Europe in general, which in itself is a form of racial discrimination against Muslims who are citizens of these countries and should enjoy citizenship rights, including the freedom of worship and freedom of religious affiliation.

Those waging this campaign against Islam and Muslims should remember that Islam, which has been spreading for the past fourteen centuries throughout the world, touched human souls by persuasion and conviction not by force, and preserved different civilizations, religions and rituals in the countries that embraced it. Hence we see the different rituals and apparel in Asia, Africa, Europe, America, China and India. And that is why followers of other religions – Jews, Christians, Sabeans and others – still constitute part of the social and national fabric in Muslim countries, whereas eight million Muslims in Andalusia were either killed, Christianized or expelled, as seems to be the case now.

It should be noted that God, in the Quran, addresses people and believers not Muslims alone, because the golden rule in Islam is that “those closest to God are the most righteous”. Islam came to complement other prophets and messengers who came before it; and one cannot be a Muslim unless s/he believed in all the other prophets and messengers and revere them in the same way s/he reveres Prophet Mohammad.

The difference between the true Muslim approach and the western approach is that Islam is based on co-existence and acculturation, while the dominant western civilization was based on the elimination of native people, settling in their land and expropriating their wealth after characterizing them as backward, primitive and ignorant to justify exterminating them.

Those coming from the Arab world, where churches and mosques embrace, where people worship God in their different ways, and where the main tenet is “Those among you closer to God are those who are good to each other,” are stunned by the fears expressed by the Swiss – who have always been master makers of watches and chocolate – of minarets and mosques, women’s apparel and veils in schools. The Swiss, whom wealthy Muslims have entrusted with billions of dollars cannot bear to see a minaret! The Swiss, who have been known for mastering sciences and professions, have this time mastered a disturbing discrimination against followers of a monotheistic religion.

This incapacity of the western mind to accept Muslims as equal citizens in rights and duties explains, more than anything else, the western silence towards Israeli practices against Palestinians which are a shame upon humanity.

Why doesn’t the Organization of Islamic Conference issue a black list of the countries that deprive Muslims of religious freedom, their extremist parties, politicians, journalists and take measures against them? Why should labelling and definition remain an exclusive right of those who show clear racism and fanaticism towards Muslims? Why does not the OIC demand that the United States – which issues lists of terrorist organizations and countries that practice religious discrimination – add Israel to the terrorist list since it practices the ugliest forms of terrorism against unarmed civilians and Switzerland to the list of countries practicing religious discrimination?

Those who express reservations towards Islam because of women’s conditions need only look at the condition of Iraqi women before and after American occupation. Here, I refer to Zayd al-Zubaidi’s report in al-Akhbar, December 4, 2009, entitled ‘Women in Occupied Iraq: Widowed, Raped or Murdered.’ Many people recall that one of Bush’s justifications of the war on Iraq and occupying it was “liberating Iraqi women”. The only liberty they got was to be raped by occupation soldiers, to care for orphans without any income, to suffer the loss of their husbands, brothers and children and the humiliation of occupation soldiers.

The rise in right-wing violence against minarets, mosques and Muslim women, and the spread of Islamophobia, hatred and violence against Muslims in the West is linked to the appearance of brave voices in the United States and Europe calling for boycotting Israel and punishing its war criminals.

Ukrainian academics have said that Israel has stolen Ukrainian children in order to harvest their organs, which confirms what Swedish journalist Donald Bostrum and others have reported about Israel killing Palestinian children in order to steal their organs. British Jews are asking Prime Minister Brown to adopt the Goldstone report. The American city of San Francisco has initiated a campaign to boycott Israel by publishing a list of ten companies which should be boycotted. The Australian city of Sidney has demonstrated against a visit by Israeli deputy prime minister Sylvan Shalom to the city.

Research shows that Islam is spreading quickly despite – or maybe because – of oppressive measures against Muslims. In Britain, the name Mohammad became the second most popular in Britain after John [sic Jack]; and Denmark, which published the defamatory cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, is witnessing a remarkable rise in the number of those who are embracing Islam. If the first prison guard in Guantanamo converted to Islam, although his task was to insure that Muslims are adequately tortured, no one will be able to eliminate minarets, mosques or veils. Nor will they be able to smother “God’s light with their mouths”. But it is the duty of all Muslims to take the position which honours their religion and the dignity of its followers, whether they are in Switzerland, France, Denmark or Occupied Palestine.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Prof. Bouthaina Shaaban is political and media advisor to the Syrian presidency, and the former minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer, and has been a professor at Damascus University since 1985. She received her PhD in English Literature from Warwick University, London. She was the spokesperson for Syria. She was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

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