FaithWorld

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.

The Conference of European Rabbis criticised his comments on Thursday and said the Swiss minaret ban will fuel xenophobia and risks making Jews the next target of religious intolerance. “We don’t have a situation of the extreme right in Europe attacking Jews because they are content to attack Muslims,” Philip Carmel, the international relations director for the Conference of European Rabbis, told Reuters.

“But the Swiss example is classic: it’s not just Muslims who are going to be targeted by the extreme right.”

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.

Swiss vote to ban new minarets too close for comfort

minarets-cow (Photo: Poster to vote ”yes” to minaret ban in a Swiss meadow, 13 Nov 2009/Dario Bianchi)

A threatening image dominates Switzerland’s streets in the form of a dark woman dressed in a Muslim niqab veil, looming over a Swiss flag covered with missile-like minarets with a call to vote “yes” in a referendum on Sunday to ban minarets on mosques here. The posters clearly seek to tap into the concerns of the country’s traditionally Christian majority about increased immigration from Muslim countries.

“I find the nature of these posters very provocative against the Islamic world. The presentation and the way the minarets are presented like rockets is unbelievable. Also the colours — with all the black — look very threatening,” says 34-year-old air traffic controller Judith Baumer.  “I assume that it’s supposed to trigger strong emotions or fear in the population.”

minarets-trainThe poster, described by the Swiss race commission as demonising Muslims and provoking religious tensions, has been banned in some cities but seems omnipresent in others.

Swiss to tighten assisted suicide rules, maybe even ban it

Undertakers remove body of assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs (Photo: Undertakers remove body of an assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs)

Switzerland is looking to change the law on assisted suicide to make sure it is only used as a last resort by the terminally ill.  “We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in the capital Berne.

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

The cabinet — which is divided on the emotive issue — sent two proposals into the legislative process for consultation, which will last until March 1: one for tighter regulation and the other for an outright ban.

“Return to past” is SSPX motto for doctrinal talks with Vatican

fellay-alps1As planned negotiations between the Vatican and the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) near, the group’s Swiss leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has spelled out his view of what the Roman Catholic Church must do to resolve the crisis he believes it is in. “The solution to the crisis is a return to the past,” he has told a magazine published by the SSPX in South Africa. (Photo: Bishop Fellay in Ecône, Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Fellay said Pope Benedict agrees with the SSPX on the need to maintain the Church’s links to the past, but still wants to keep some reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). “This is one of the most sensitive problems,” he said. “We hope the discussions will allow us to dispel the grave ambiguities that have spread through the Catholic Church since (the Council), as John Paul II himself recognised.”

Benedict has, in fact, listed SSPX acceptance of Vatican II reforms was a Vatican conditions in the talks.

Would Polanski get a pass if he were a paedophile priest?

polanskiIt’s hard to watch France’s political and cultural elite rush to support filmmaker Roman Polanski against extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge and not wonder exactly how they interpret the national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s tempting to ask whether they’re defending the liberty to break the law and skip town, respecting the equality of all before the law and championing a brotherhood of artists who can do no wrong. (Photo: Roman Polanski, 19 Feb 2009/Hannibal Hanschke)

Here in Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared the arrest was “a bit sinister … frankly, (arresting) a man of such talent recognised around the world, recognised in the country where he was arrested — that’s not very nice.” He and his Polish counterpart have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue. Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said “just as there is a generous America that we like, there’s also an America that scares us, and that’s the America that has just shown us its face.” Directors, actors and intellectuals have been signing a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.

Almost all the focus is on the argument that Polanski is a brilliant director, the charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year old dates back to 1977 and the victim herself says she wants the whole issue to be forgotten.  Almost completely ignored is the fact that he fled the U.S. to escape sentencing, which added a crime to the original crime. There is such a widespread assumption that all artists and intellectuals would automatically support Polanski that Paris papers today — both the left-of-centre Libération and the conservative Le Figaro — wrote with an air of surprise that Hollywood was not storming the barricades to back him.

Swiss Council of Religions united against proposed minaret ban

minaret (Photo: Minaret of Zurich’s Mahmud Mosque, 23 May 2007/Christian Hartmann)

The Swiss Council of Religions, which is composed of leaders from the country’s Christian, Jewish and Islamic organisations, has issued a statement rejecting a proposed ban on minarets. A group of right-wing anti-immigrant politicians has gathered more than 100,000 signatures to support the so-called Minaret Initiative, saying the minarets threaten law and order. The vote is due on November 29.

The Swiss federal government has warned that the referendum vote was organised legally but a ban would violate international human rights and the country’s constitution. “Such a ban would endanger peace between religions and would not help to prevent the spread of fundamentalist Islamic beliefs,” its Department of Justice and Police said in late August.

The Council statement, the first it has made on a political issue since it was formed in 2006 to foster interfaith dialogue, denounces the bid as an affront to the tradition of diversity in the multilingual Alpine country. Here are some excerpts from the statement:

from Environment Forum:

Holy water!

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Are the residents of Fiesch and Fischertal in Switzerland particularly pious, desperate or both? I wonder after learning that villagers there want Pope Benedict's blessing to stop the melting of Europe's longest glacier. That, after hundreds of years of praying for it to stop growing. Researchers predict winter temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

You can track the fate of the Aletsch glacier here, but don't expect to see a repeat of Spencer Tunick's 2007 naked photoshoot.

Undoubtedly, Switzerland's tourism industry has suffered this summer, with 148,000 fewer foreign visitors bunking at chalets and the like in June compared to the same month last year. Of course it's not clear if the decline was due to melting glaciers or the credit crisis.

GUESTVIEW: Fellay ordains SSPX priests, hints timid opening

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Nicolas Senèze is deputy editor of the religion service at the French Catholic daily La Croix and author of La crise intégriste, a history of the SSPX. He wrote this for FaithWorld (translation by Reuters) after covering the ordinations in Ecône for La Croix.

fellay-alps1 (Photo: Bishop Fellay greets children in Ecône, in Valais canton in southwestern Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

By Nicolas Senèze

Bishop Bernard Fellay has gone and done it. On the morning of June 29, before crowds of the faithful gathered on the large meadow outside the Saint Pius X seminary in Ecône, Switzerland, the Superior General of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX) ordained eight new priests. Just like Bishop Alfonso de Galaretta did on Friday in Zaitzkofen, Germany, and Bishop Bernard Tissier de Mallerais 10 days ago in Winona, Minnesota in the United States. They went ahead and ordained these men despite the Vatican’s declaration that the ordinations were “illegitimate”, i.e. illegal according to the law of the Roman Catholic Church.