The call from the Swiss minaret
The stunning success of the popular initiative to ban minarets in Switzerland has turned heads around the world. But what does it really mean for Swiss Muslims, and what are the implications and lessons for other European countries? From a strictly legal point of view, the construction of minarets is now prohibited in Switzerland. No further legislation is required to implement this constitutional provision and there is nothing that federal or cantonal authorities can do to challenge it. The only avenue for Swiss Muslims to overturn the ban is through the courts the next time an application to construct a mosque is rejected because of it. Such a challenge will no doubt not be long in coming. It should also be successful.As a great many Swiss and international legal experts have said, the ban is clearly inconsistent with Switzerland`s obligations under international law to respect the freedom of religion and not to discriminate on the grounds of religious belief. Even if the Swiss Federal Supreme Court does not reject the law, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg almost certainly wi.ll. In the meantime, however, the ban will remain in force. And much harm will already have been done. The popularity of the ban - even more than the measure itself - will damage relations between Switzerland`s small Muslim minority and the rest of the population. Extremists on all sides will take encouragement. The integration of Swiss Muslims, the necessary two-way process of respect and adaptation, will inevitably suffer. The success of the referendum brings with it some long, hard lessons for the Swiss authorities that other European countries and political leaders would also do well to heed. First, xenophobic and, specifically, Islamophobic sentiment is much more widespread than even the most pessimistic observers had thought. Opinion polls in the run-up to the referendum consistently showed a majority of voters to be opposed to the ban. How wrong they were. In the privacy of the voting booth, silent prejudices found their voice. The situation is probably similar across Europe; the success of far-right parties in the recent European Parliament elections certainly suggests so. Indeed, the only surprise in Switzerland was how surprised we were. Second, the failure of civil society and the leading mainstream political parties to campaign aggressively against the referendum was clearly a big mistake. With lower levels of popular prejudice, the reluctance to engage and give airtime to xenophobic views by debating and challenging them might have worked. It did not in Switzerland. The absence of vocal, united and consistent opposition to the initiative clearly left the terrain free for the fear-mongering and exaggeration that Islamophobic ideologues thrive on. Other countries should not make the same mistake. Already, calls are being made for similar policies in other European countries. The success of Swiss referendum must, therefore, serve as a wake up call not just for Switzerland, but for the rest of Europe too. Much more comprehensive measures are needed, across Europe, to combat discrimination and promote the integration of Muslim and immigrant communities. A much greater commitment is needed from political leaders, from civil society - from all moderate, tolerant voices -- to expose, confront and counter xenophobic views. Complacence is complicity. The cost of failure is huge. Intolerance lies at the heart of Europe`s most ubiquitous human rights violation discrimination. Discrimination tears societies apart. Of all continents, Europe should know a thing or two about this. (Claudio Cordone, senior director of Amnesty International).
The Swiss vote
Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measure. Under Switzerland`s system of direct rule, the referendum is binding. Switzerland`s 400,000 or so Muslims, most of whom come from Kosovo and Turkey, are legally barred from building minarets as of now. We can only hope that the ban is quickly challenged, and that the Swiss courts will find a way to get rid of it. But the vote also carries a strong and urgent message for all Europe, and for all Western nations where Islamic minorities have been growing in numbers and visibility, and where fear and resentment of Muslim immigrants and their religion have become increasingly strident and widespread. The warning signs have been there: the irrational fierceness of official French resistance to the shawls and burkas worn by some Muslim women; the growing opposition in many European quarters to Turkish membership in the European Union. Terrorist attacks by Islamic militants, notably 9/11 and the attacks on London, Madrid and Mumbai, have played a role in the perception of Muslims as a security threat. But the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance, Banning minarets does not address any of the problems with Muslim immigrants, but it is certain to alienate and anger them. In Switzerland, Muslims amount to barely 6 percent of the population and there is no evidence of Islamic extremism. If its residents can succumb so easily to the propaganda of a xenophobic right-wing party, then countries with far greater Muslim populations and far more virulent strains of xenophobia best quickly start thinking about how to counter the trend. If left unchecked, xenophobia spreads fast. Already rightwingers in the Netherlands and Denmark have called for similar measures, and others are bound to be encouraged by the success of the Swiss People`s Party.
La Decisione della Corte Europea dei diritti dell'uomo di imporre all'Italia di rimuovere il Crocifisso dai luoghi pubblici e l'esito del referendum recentemente tenutosi in Svizzera sulla costruzione dei minareti (che ne impedisce la costruzione) possono essere letti nella chiave della nuova dimensione simbolica della politica internazionale e dell'interrelazione sempre piu' stretta tra politica interna e politica estera, da un lato, e religione e relazioni internazionali, dall'altro. L'accanimento sui simboli e' la spia di malesseri piu' profondi, e cioe' in primo luogo dell'incapacita' di immaginare una comunita' ampia ed inclusiva, nella quale l'identita' plurima ed il pluralismo delle fedi e delle convinzioni non vengano percepite come una minaccia esistenziale per la cultura e la storia di un popolo o dei diversi gruppi che convivono nello stesso contesto costituzionale. E' proprio questo concetto della "minaccia all'identita'" ad inquietare, perche' rischia di provocare una destrutturazione sistematica delle faticose conquiste socio-politiche ed istituzionali in favore della coestistenza e della convivenza. Che possono anche assumere la forma del confronto piuttosto che quella del dialogo: in ogni caso, tuttavia, si tratta dell'accettazione di una cornice comune e condivisa all'interno della quale e' possibile inscenare un serrato dibattito ed anche uno scontro regolato ("civile"). C'e' da interrogarsi sulle ragioni di fondo che conducono a percepire simboli di pace, di sacrificio e di preghiera come dovrebbero essere il Crocifisso ed il Minareto in altrettanti impliciti attentati alla liberta' di coscienza ed all'identita'. In ogni caso, e' evidente che si tratta di questioni che non possono essere affrontate nel limitato ambito giuridico e politico di singoli Stati, perche' la trans-nazionalita' dei simboli in questione evoca temi di portata globale, che possono avere (ed hanno in effetti gia' avuto) forti ripercussioni su scala internazionale. E' una sorta di inversione della globalizzazione, che in questo caso funziona non nella direzione outside-in, ma inside-out. Problematica complessa e da approfondire. Intanto, due articoli tratti dall’International Herald Tribune del 2 dicembre 2009.