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Anushay Hossain

Anushay Hossain
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Washington, District of Columbia,
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January 08
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Bangladeshi Author, Analyst, & Advocate based in Washington. Read my blog, www.AnushaysPoint.com

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DECEMBER 9, 2009 11:44AM

Au Revoir Minarets? The Swiss Message To Muslims

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Worth A Thousand Words- Or More. Image Credit: Swiss People's Party (SVP)

When I first heard about the recent Swiss referendum to ban minarets in the country, all I could think about was how unexpected it was to get such a hostile  action from the Swiss. Weren't they supposed to be the all loving, peaceful, neutral European country?

Apparently not. The Swiss clearly are just as freaked out about the surging Muslim population in their country as many of their European neighbors. It should be noted that far-right parties in Italy, Netherlands, and Belgium all welcomed the Swiss referendum, and called for similar measures to be taken at home.

All this makes me think about an article I read a few years ago in Foreign Affairs called, "Europe's Angry Muslims." It was horribly offensive and it outlined major European nations' problems with integrating their Muslim communities: The Algerians in France, Turks in Germany, Moroccans in Spain, and Pakistanis in London.

To give the article some credit, it was a brutally honest analysis of Europe's growing "Muslim problem." It was also the first time the threat Muslims pose to European secular culture was articulated to me.

Initially I thought the Swiss were having a delayed reaction to their Muslim population, but after reading H.A.'s Hellyer's "Daily Beast" piece on how Europe's Muslims should respond to the Swiss, I see that Switzerland's move has to do with a much larger issue of European identity.

In his article, former Brookings Institute Fellow Hellyer states that, "Muslims are not a comfortable reality for much of Europe...Muslim Europeans are a problem. They adhere to a religion which for many centuries had provided many Europeans with an "alter-civilization" by which to judge themselves."

This point makes me think of renown literary theorist Edward Said's book (read: masterpiece) Orientalism. In it, Said states that the West has always defined itself against the Orient, against the "Other." He stipulates that one basis for European colonialism was the feminization of the Orient, of the East as a wild, untamed woman that must be controlled and contained.

So what happens when the "Other" moves into your country and becomes a citizen? Demands the same rights as you? If you begin to view the situation from this perspective, you begin to understand the roots of European paranoia. It also becomes startlingly clear to you how insecure contemporary European identity must be, so easily threatened.

This however does not vindicate what is happening in Switzerland. The fact of the matter is that hostility towards Muslims in Europe is rising. I have written previously about the need for American Muslims to do more to provide tangible responses that clearly separate us from the violent acts committed in the name of Islam.

But it's a different ballgame for European Muslims.  You hear so many calls about the need for Muslims to "better integrate" themselves into European society. But how can they really when European laws such as this Swiss law and the ban of the burqa in France make it so difficult for Muslims to even pretend to be equal citizens with their fellow Europeans? Blatantly prejudiced legislation against Muslims is not only still being authored and introduced, it is even praised by other European nations.

So what does the future hold for Europe's Muslims? Hellyer prompts us to be cautious optimists. He reminds us that one of the reasons America even exists is because of Europe's  "historically bad record on respect for diversity," and inability to "cope with pluralism."

While what is happening in Switzerland today gives an opportunity for Swiss Muslims to stand up, speak out against this blatant discrimination (just look at the Swiss People's Party's poster!), and demonstrate their peaceful contributions to their societies, I have to agree with Hellyer. I fear this is another very troubling sign of growing Islamophobia in Europe- and increasing isolation of its Muslim populations.

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I heartily disagree. The Swiss are reacting to a population that doesn't recognize freedom of speech, womens rights, gay rights, Jews rights and religious tolerance. The Swiss are a secular, free society who are dealing with population that is given every right to worship in their faith in Switzerland but doesn't tolerate the secular society around them.

The Netherlands, France, Great Britain, Spain and the U.S. are liberal democracies that realize that they cannot survive when part of the population believes that divine laws trump those made by man. Certain values such as separation of church and state and gender equality are not negotiable. Ask England how they are dealing with the strident demand for Shari'a law instead of English law.

The ban of the burqa is about gender equality. As Irshad Manji says: "Culture is not a reason to tolerate human suffering."
the moslems are in switzerland because they are cheap labor. as guest workers they drove down wages among the low end of swiss society. now, they are establishing themselves sufficiently to reveal their religious allegiance and by so doing make it easy for economic tensions to manifest as religious intolerance.