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The "Trivial" Conflict - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Switzerland is a unique and distinguished country, one that had adopted an independent approach based upon the principle of neutrality. Switzerland refrains from adopting positions that may result in hostility with others. It is a country that has adopted the principles of hard-work, accountability, responsibility, and justice. Switzerland is admired the world over for exemplifying how to live with dignity and provide essential requirements for living such as knowledge, work, health, and justice, in a balanced and unprecedented manner. This is accompanied by Switzerland’s divine and beautiful landscape that seems as if it is paradise on earth. The superiority of the Swiss work ethic reflects the character of this country, and the Swiss qualities of accuracy, commitment, and devotion has resulted in Switzerland amazing the world with its watch industry. The Swiss also excel in the manufacture of chocolates and other foodstuffs, as well as medicine and medical equipment, not to mention Switzerland’s excellent banking and financial services. All of this reflects the remarkable superior quality of Swiss products and services, despite the countries low population and small geographic size. The “Swiss” model has been used as an example for coexistence between different races, religions, and languages, as Switzerland includes [people of] German, Italian, and French ancestry and others. Nevertheless, everybody is governed by the same system equally, and Swiss law does not differentiate between citizen’s identity whether this is their ethnicity or language or sex.

Switzerland is a secular country of distinction, despite the fact that the cross is featured prominently on the Swiss flag. The practice of religion in Switzerland has been affected by the Protestant teaching of separation between the Church and State. Switzerland was a center for the Protestant Church’s most important teachers, such as Martin Luther and Saint Augustine of Hippo. Switzerland later become the natural choice for major international organizations and institutions that wished to have a presence in a country where there were no fighting factions or internal conflicts.

Therefore it is extremely strange and unusual to discover that the Swiss People’s Party [SVP] – which is known for its extremist nature – and the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland, have launched a bizarre initiative to amend the Swiss constitution to include an article prohibiting the construction of mosque minarets. This measure is scheduled to be voted on in two weeks.

This story began when Swiss Muslims of Turkish origin in the Swiss village of Wangen in the district of Olten requested permission to construct a minaret for their local mosque. The [non-Muslim] neighbors of this mosque objected to this request, arguing that a minaret would ruin the neighborhood’s landscape. At first this request [to construct a minaret] seemed a simple and ordinary one, but it was transformed into a public issue after political parties got involved. Swiss opinion polls reveal that nearly 40 percent of the population have no objection to minaret construction, while a significant proportion of the population have yet to give their opinion. Right-wing political extremists are attempting to exploit the situation and link this request for minaret construction to the theft of European identity and culture by “terrorist intruders” thereby linking the rise of crime [in Switzerland] to the increasing number of immigrants from Muslim countries.

These right-wing extremists are wrong, and they are making a mistake by initiating discussions of this type. This is a sly attempt to exploit this issue, and perhaps the same parties may launch an initiative prohibiting blowing [horns made of] deer and ram horns as is customary during Saturday lessons in Jewish temples on the grounds that this is against animal rights, for instance? Therefore they are attempting to exploit the situation by utilizing human [or animal] rights; however with regards to the minaret construction case, this is a domestic issue that concerns the residence in the area, rather than a public opinion issue. Minarets have not historically been an integral feature of a mosque, nor does Islam or the Sunnah of the Prophet [pbuh] stipulate the presence of minarets. However if Muslims believe that they are being singled out, and that this campaign is being launched against them in particular, then there are good opportunities to reveal and publicize this to the media.

I know that the giant Nestle Corporation is cautiously observing the situation and preparing to issue a comment. Nestle has over 50 factories operating in Muslim countries and is therefore aware of the significance and impact of the situation. The same goes for other Swiss companies that have operations and interests in the region. It is sad and ridiculous that this provocative and racist Swiss initiative is being put to a vote in this day and age. This is a depressing representation of how the promising inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue has been turned into something trivial that harms and infects everybody.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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