FaithWorld

Germans more negative towards Muslims than other Europeans

germany (Photo: Anti-Muslim campaign posters by a far-right party in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state, with slogans saying  ‘Ban minarets – also for NRW’ and ‘Vote pro NRW – Stop Islamisation’, in Bonn, April 23, 2010/Wolfgang Rattay)

Only about one third of Germans think positively of their Muslim neighbors, a much lower proportion than in other western European countries, according to a new poll published on Thursday. In contrast, 62 percent of Dutch and 56 percent of French people responding to the TNS Emnid survey indicated they had positive attitudes toward Muslims.

Detlef Pollack, a Muenster University sociologist who led the study, attributed Germans’ views to their lack of contact with Muslims compared to people in other nations surveyed. “The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” he said.

The survey broke down the German results into western and eastern responses, reflecting continuing divisions in the once-divided country. Only 34 percent in the west and 26 percent in the east had positive impressions of Muslims, it said.

Contact with Muslims also showed regional differences, with 40 percent of westerners but only 16 percent of easterners saying they occasionally met Muslims. French people appear to have the most contact with Muslims, 66 percent of those responding saying they had such contacts.

The survey was conducted before former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin plunged Germany into a heated debate over Muslim integration with a controversial best-selling book published in August.

Muslim group aims to reverse Swiss minaret ban

ch 1 (Photo: A referendum campaign poster supporting the minaret ban, in Zurich October 26, 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

A Swiss Islamic group has said it was launching a popular initiative to reverse a ban on building new minarets in the Alpine state, saying voters would decide differently if the matter came up for referendum again. Last year, 57.5 percent of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets, drawing international condemnation. The government had rejected the initiative as violating the constitution.

The plan to reverse the minaret ban comes a day after a majority of Swiss voted to back expulsion of foreigners convicted of serious crimes, the latest sign of growing hostility to immigration.

The text of the proposed initiative will state that the ban on building minarets is to be stricken from the constitution, the Central Islamic Council of Switzerland said on Monday. “Today we can clearly say that accepting the ban has brought neither the voters nor this country any profit,” said Nicolas Blancho, president of the group. “This (new referendum) will also show that we respect democracy and stick to local law.”

Europe cited in US religious freedoms report

minaret 1 (Photo: A cow in a Swiss meadow next to billboard against minarets in Zwillikon November 13, 2009/Christian Hartmann)

The United States voiced concern on Wednesday over deteriorating religious freedoms in many parts of the world, including several European countries where “harsh measures” limiting religious expression have been put in place.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which rates countries around the world.

“Religious freedom is both a fundamental human right and an essential element to any stable, peaceful, thriving society,” Clinton told a news conference

After minarets, will Switzerland ban burqas too?

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Zurich and the Limmat River, April 20, 2008/Arnd Wiegmann

Full Muslim face veils could become the next divisive religious issue to take centre stage in Switzerland, where voters last November approved a measure banning the construction of new minarets. The Swiss federal government said in February it saw no need for a “burqa ban.” Politicians at the national level say there’s no “burqa problem” in Switzerland. But few thought there was a “minaret problem” either, until the question was put to a national referendum and the minaret ban campaigners won.

Like the minarets, of which there are only four in Switzerland, there are very few veiled women in Switzerland. The most likely place to see them is Geneva, where many rich Middle Easterners do their banking. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey recently told the newspaper Blick that she’d once seen fully veiled women there and was “furious, because the burqa is a symbol of the enslavement of women.” But she insisted to her interviewers: “I’m against burqas. And I’m against a burqa ban … we don’t have a burqa problem in Switzerland. Very few women wear a burqa here. Have you even seen one?”

Similarly, Economy Minister Doris Leuthard, who is also serving this year as the country’s president, has said  “we’ve got much tougher, more important problems.” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has said “we don’t really have a burqa problem in Switzerland now.” She did add, though, that she was watching to see whether a “parallel society” was developing. “We are not ready to let our legal system and our values be compromised,” she said.

European Muslims face growing discrimination – OSI report

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French far-right party protests against mosque in Marseille, 16 Nov 2009/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Muslims are facing increased discrimination across Europe and urgent action needs to be taken at local, national and EU levels to tackle the problem, according to a report published on Tuesday.

The Open Society Institute, a private foundation set up by billionaire financier George Soros, said many Muslims suffered unfair treatment along with social and economic disadvantages, despite being integral to the cities in which they lived.

Swiss minaret ban reversal vote in pipeline

genevaminaretSwiss liberals are considering a new referendum to overturn the ban on building new minarets in the country, Sunday papers reported, as Libya’s Muamar Gaddafi warned the ban played into the hands of terrorists.

Club Helvetique, a group of over 20 Swiss intellectuals, will draw up an action plan to overturn the ban, which has drawn widespread criticism abroad and prompted hundreds of people to take to the streets this weekend in Zurich, Basel and Berne.

“A new initiative is the most democratic way of achieving this,” constitutional lawyer Jörg Müller told Sonntag.

Swiss politician apologises over cemetery ban call

darbellayThe leader of Switzerland’s centrist Christian Democrats (CVP) has apologised  for calling for a ban on new Muslim and Jewish cemeteries, just days after Swiss voters approved a halt to building minarets.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” CVP leader Christophe Darbellay told the tabloid Blick daily on Friday, adding:  “It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society … but you can’t explain that in 15 seconds.” (Photo: Christophe Darbellay, 22 Aug 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Darbellay provoked protests when he told local television earlier in the week that Switzerland should not allow the building of separate cemeteries for Jews or Muslims in future.

Bishop of Arabia dismayed by minaret ban in Swiss homeland

minarets-trainMany supporters of the Swiss ban on minarets justified it with the argument that limitations on mosques in Europe were permissible because Christians can’t build churches in some Muslim countries. This was also a recurring theme in comments to FaithWorld (see here and here). But doesn’t this tit-for-tat approach simply provide further arguments for Muslim authorities who don’ t want to concede more religious freedom to their Christian minorities? (Photo: Posters for “yes” vote to minaret ban in Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

One man uniquely placed to judge this is the Swiss-born Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder. Based in Abu Dhabi, he is at the frontline of the “reciprocity” debate on treatment of Christian minorities in the Middle East. In an interview in today’s French Catholic daily La Croix, Hinder says he was “dismayed” that the minaret ban passed in a referendum last Sunday. “For us Christians in Arabia, it will certainly not make our work easier, although some might think they have done us a favour by saying yes to this initiative,” he said.

“Nobody can deny that the ban on minarets punishes a specific religious community, whose members in Switzerland have done nothing wrong,” he added. “I certainly understand the irrational fears of many Swiss faced with the heightened visibility of religion that they previously knew only by hearsay but now find right at their doorsteps or in the apartment next door.”

U.N. rights boss denounces Swiss ban on minarets

minaret-protestThe top U.N. rights official in Geneva has said  Switzerland’s ban on building minarets was “deeply divisive” and at odds with its international legal obligations.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that prohibiting an architectural structure linked to Islam or any religion was “clearly discriminatory.” She said the ban was “discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take, and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations.” (Photo: Protesters in Zurich against minaret ban, 29 Nov 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, was asked at a news briefing whether this meant that Switzerland was violating the pact. “It’s not quite the same as saying it’s a violation, but it is a very short step short of saying that,” he said.  Read the whole story here.

The Swiss minaret ban and other trends for Islam in Europe

minarets-trainSwitzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighbourhood”. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.

At the same time, the consensus reaction from politicians and the press across Europe today was critical of the Swiss vote. Most of the excited calls for more action come from fringe parties the majority parties keep at a distance (except the Northern League, which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy). Referendums are not as easy to stage in other European countries and are even banned in Germany, where the up-and-coming team of Hitler andGoebbels used them before 1933 to rally support for the Nazi Party.