Not-so-neutral Switzerland

by tobybee

Switzerland currently has four minarets. This week, as you probably heard, 57% of the people of Switzerland voted to ban minarets in their country. The fact that there are so few minarets, that this is not a way in which Muslims in Switzerland express their religion, shows that there is something going on at a psychic level to create the perception that the presence of minarets, as an expression of Muslim presence, is a problem. Of course, the opposition to Muslims as people and the expressions of their identity in Western countries is always a case of a people being made outsiders, or Other. Where Jews were once Europe’s internal Others par excellence, and Muslims were the external Other, with recent migration (some of which is of course forced migration of refugees from countries to which Europe has gone to wage war) Muslims have become the internal Other.

And it is this presence which is being persecuted, at both a symbolic and physical level. The minarets are a physical presence in the landscape, but since there are so few, one which very few Swiss people would ever encounter. But, symbolically, they stand for a permanent Muslim presence in Switzerland; for the perception, it seems, that ‘Swiss identity’ is under threat. This, of course, should be a cause of much concern and anger for all of us, and all the more so for those of us who carry identities which have been made dangerously Other by Europe. It is this legislative production of Muslim-ness as designation of outsider-ness which, we may yet find, is but one of the early steps in an increasingly violent Switzerland.

As Anas Altikriti, writing in Al Jazeera, stated, “The construction of minarets is a right – one that bears no effect whatsoever on the vast majority of the Swiss people. By voting to ban this right, it is Swiss – and Western – values which become poorer and less meaningful.

The only way forward is for a realisation that Europe is not built solely on a Judeo-Christian heritage, but that Muslims too have played a vital and significant role in shaping modern day Europe through contributions of culture, arts, politics, law, theology, science, medicine and dozens of other disciplines.

There must be a realisation too that the 30 million or so European Muslims have become part of the European social fabric, through an invaluable contribution which they have made over decades if not for centuries.

By singling them out as suspects and potential enemies within, European societies are creating wide-spread instability and future uncertainty for everyone on the social, economic and political levels.

For a Europe that still commemorates the tragedies that occurred when it played host to a concerted attack on one of its own communities nearly 70 years ago, it is a serious over-sight and a case of horrific negligence to allow the same to happen again, only against a different victim.”