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December 02, 2009, Wednesday

Mosques in Switzerland, churches in Turkey

This last referendum in Switzerland on the banning of minarets was inherently racist, and its result is quite humiliating for both the Swiss people and Muslims living there.
As you know, almost 58 percent of the electorate voted in favor of the ban, which is now expected to become part of the Swiss constitution. If this discussion was on the “noise,” for example, we could have understood it. If they were complaining about the call for prayer five times a day from these minarets, this could have been a legitimate discussion. Even in this case, other measures could have been discussed; such as lowering the volume to acceptable levels and so on. Where does this obsession with minarets come from? It is a purely Islamaphobic expression of intolerance in the middle of Europe. I received very angry letters when I wrote that Muslims are the new Jews in Europe in this column. I want to reiterate here once again that the new Nazis in Europe are just emerging with these fear-mongering campaigns against Muslims. Racism is like that. You don’t realize how racist you are; it seems quite natural to justify your biased and bigoted approach towards others to yourself. You are not racist, but the others are those “who are primitive, backward, dirty, ugly, underdeveloped, subhuman,” and so on. They look to you like someone who warrants a different sort of behavior.

They banned these minarets believing that they are assertive symbols of power. As a historical irony, I have just seen a church’s steeple rising behind the minaret of the mosque in one of the photographs in the news coverage of this referendum. It is a pity, is it not, that this steeple may have been seen as a nice piece of architecture if it were not for this ban. But now it appears to me as the symbol of intolerance, oppression and hegemony. When people attack and humiliate others’ religions and beliefs, they actually cause the greatest harm to their respective religions and beliefs. We cannot know how devout Christians voted in this referendum, but for the ones who voted in favor of the ban, it is a great shame and they should know that they have just contributed to the intolerance and hatred everywhere in the world.

I hope this will be a wakeup call for Europe and that everyone will start to think about the root causes, implications and possible ways to eradicate the contagion of Islamaphobia in Europe.

 But Muslims should also reflect upon this shameful referendum, and they should draw lessons from it for the treatment of religious minorities in their respective countries. As I have constantly tried to explain in this column, the plight of non-Muslims in Turkey was caused and created by the so-called “secular” state apparatus in Turkey. Devout Muslims were not even capable of solving the headscarf problem, and it is really shameful for all of us; women wearing the headscarf cannot go into public buildings in this predominantly Muslim country. Non-Muslims and the different sects of Muslims also suffer from the lack of religious freedom in Turkey. The Alevis’ long-standing demand for recognition of their places of worship has not yet been met. Up until six years ago it was not legally possible to open a new place of worship for non-Muslims since the town planning code only allowed permission for new mosques. In 2003 this town planning code was amended and the term “mosque” was replaced with the phrase “place of worship,” but it did not solve the problem at all. Governors and municipalities have not issued the necessary permission. As far as I know, since the enactment of this new law, only a few churches have managed to obtain the necessary permission to be recognized as churches.

This shameful and humiliating ban on minarets in Switzerland should help devout Muslims develop a sensible empathy towards the feelings of non-Muslims in Turkey. The best answer to be given to this intolerant behavior in the heart of Europe is to have more collaboration and solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims in Turkey. Turkey should exemplify how churches and mosques can peacefully stand side-by-side, like they did for 600 years in the past.

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