FaithWorld

Zurich voters reject ban on “suicide tourism”

(Zurich city funeral services employees carry a casket from an assisted suicide clinic where a terminally ill British man died January 20, 2003/Sebastian Derungs)

Voters in Zurich overwhemingly rejected on Sunday proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism” — foreigners traveling to Switzerland to receive help ending their lives. Only 15.5 percent of voters in the local referendum backed a ban on assisted suicide, while nearly 22 percent supported a ban on suicide tourism, final results showed. About 200 people commit assisted suicide each year in Zurich.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since 1941 if performed by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death. Euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon. Many terminally ill foreigners — particularly from Germany, France and Britain — travel to Switzerland to commit suicide, taking advantage of the Swiss rules which are among the world’s most liberal.

But a rise in the number of foreigners seeking to end their lives in Switzerland, and a study showing that more and more people seeking assisted suicides in the country do not suffer from a terminal illness, have provoked heated debate.

The Swiss Evangelical People’s Party, which had supported the bans, said it regretted the outcome but was pleased it had prompted so much discussion. “We now need to make sure that assisted suicide isn’t just extended without limit and also that suicide tourism with foreigners is critically monitored,” it said in a statement.

Many Egyptian Christians voted ‘no’ on constitution, fearing Islamists

egypt referendum

(Pope Shenouda (L), head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, casts his vote during a national referendum, at a school in Cairo March 19, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Many Egyptian Christians say they voted to reject proposed constitutional amendments in a referendum on Saturday because they fear hasty elections to follow may open the door for Islamist groups to rise to power. It turned out they were in the minority — 77% of those voting supported the proposed changes.

Parliamentary elections should take place in late September followed by presidential elections in December, giving scant time for new parties to organise, including ones representing the aspirations of Christians. Foremost among these aspirations is the creation of a civil state where religion is not a basis for legislation.

Bashir plans Islamic law if Sudan splits, defends flogging woman

sudan (Photo: Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a rally in Gedaref, December 19, 2010/stringer)

Sudan will adopt an Islamic constitution if the south splits away in a referendum next month, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Sunday. The vote on independence for south Sudan is scheduled to start in three weeks and was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the south, where most follow traditional beliefs and Christianity.

“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,” the president told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref. “Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said.

An official from south Sudan’s main party criticised Bashir’s stance, saying it would encourage discrimination against minorities in the north and deepen the country’s international isolation.

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.”

Turkey needs to re-interpret secularism – senior MP

erdogan (Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan watches his wife Emine voting in a constitutional referendum, in Istanbul September 12, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Turkey has to re-interpret its principles of secularism to adapt to a changing society, an AK Party member in charge of drafting a new constitution said, joining a growing debate over the Muslim country’s identity.

Turkey, a rising regional power which aspires to join the European Union, was founded by Kemal Ataturk as a secular republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. But a power shift led by a new middle class of observant Muslims which forms the backbone of the AKP government is challenging Turkey’s ability to reconcile Islam and secularism.

In the lastest twist of a long-running dispute, Turkey’s Higher Education Board last week ordered Istanbul University, one of Turkey’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling female students who wear the Muslim headscarf from classes.

Turkey’s Erdogan scores reform referendum victory

erdoganTurkish voters strongly backed constitutional reforms on Sunday, handing a government led by conservative Muslims a new victory in a power struggle with secular opponents over the country’s direction.

“The winner today was Turkish democracy,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan told followers. Erdogan had portrayed the reforms as an effort to boost the Muslim nation’s democracy and help its European Union candidacy. (Photo: Tayyip Erdogan at a news conference in Istanbul September 12, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Though Erdogan’s AK party has pushed political and economic reforms and spearheaded Turkey’s drive for EU accession since coming to power in 2002, the secular establishment accuses it of using its parliamentary majority to introduce a hidden Islamist agenda. Until the advent of AK, a secular elite had held power since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey in 1923. With the army’s once-formidable power clipped by EU-driven reforms, high courts are seen as the secularists’ last redoubt.

Kenya PM blasts judges for barring Islamic courts from constitution

kenya doves

President Mwai Kibaki (C), Prime Minister Raila Odinga (L) and Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka (R) release pigeons for peace at a Nairobi rally for the constitution referendum on May 15, 2010/Thomas Mukoya

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has attacked the country’s judiciary as an obstacle to reform after its high court  ruled it would be discriminatory to entrench kadhi courts — Islamic courts that rule on the basis of sharia — in Kenya’s constitution. The ruling came three months before Kenyans vote in a referendum on a proposed new constitution, seen as an important step towards ensuring that post-election violence which shook east Africa’s largest economy in 2008 is not repeated.

Opposition to the Muslim courts brought together Christian clergy and some politicians to oppose the proposed constitution. The kadhis’ courts deal with matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslims.

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.

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.”

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.