Switzerland’s Minaret Ban: New Victims for an Old Propaganda

Last month, Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of mosque minarets. It’s worth reminding everyone that among the 150 mosques built in Switzerland, only four used to have a minaret. Four too many, according to the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and 57% of the Swiss voters.

Unlike other European countries, Switzerland has no colonial past in Arab or predominately Muslim countries, which many of the Muslim migrants living in Europe come from. Almost 60% of the Muslims based in Switzerland are de facto members of the European community, as they came from the Balkans (mostly Bosnia and Kosovo). But no one cares. Instead of being a part of the European culture, Islam is very reluctantly tolerated in Europe. This “tolerance” is built upon the condition that Muslims—and in particular Muslim women—agree to the paradox of being both invisible in their religious practices and hyper-visible in the caricatures of these same religious practices. Muslim women can be accepted by the societies they live in as long as they accept to be visible only when the media decides so.

In this respect, it is essential to look at the visual material in the Swiss campaign against minarets. This poster (pictured below) shows a woman fully wrapped in a black niqab instead of a basic hijab. Her eyebrows hint at a menacing scowl. She is rounded by minarets, which appear as makeshift nuclear weapons piercing the Swiss flag. They represent the so-called danger of creeping Islamization in Switzerland.

The poster used in Switzerland's campaign against minarets.

The poster used in Switzerland's campaign against minarets.

This image of a Muslim woman falls in to the newest stereotype to befall us: the Menacing Muslim Woman, who unleashes fundamentalism, terrorism, and death wherever she goes. Nobody assumes that her missile-like minarets are meant to represent intercultural harmony or peace.

In a book entitled “The Anti-Semitic Poster in France under Occupation” (Editions Berg International, 2008), the historian Diane Afoumado focuses on the anti-Semitic symbolism, the repetition of clichés and colors, especially yellow and black. Afoumado says that the main objective of anti-Semitic posters was to make the viewers feel that “the Jew” is necessarily different from them, that “it” did not even share the common ground of humanity. They are not like us.

As Alexander Gainem puts it in an article published on IslamOnline that traces the origins of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in European history, the “violence of Islamophobia should be taken seriously”. As the German playwright Bertolt Brecht warned: “The belly is still fertile that gave birth to the vile beast.”

  • http://durkadurkistan.blogspot.com/ A T

    Yeah, there is a whoooooole lot of nonsense going on with this minaret ban.

    I’m really glad you picked up on the connection with anti-Semitism, though. I wrote about this link, and some interesting historical parallels that this ban has with what the Jews experienced aforetime in Europe:

    http://durkadurkistan.blogspot.com/2009/12/swiss-minaret-affair-whats-going-on-in.html

    Please let me know what you think!

  • http://islamogauchiste.blogspot.com/ princesse de Clèves, islamogauchiste

    Salam Abu Tarab, thank you for your comment.
    I read your post with great interest – it’s actually one the most interesting article available about this ban because you made a precise and very well-documented analysis.

    The only point you seemed missing though was the disproportion. That might sound obvious to many people but I think it’s essential to mention every single time we talk about this ban. You always find too many representations about Islam in Europe – and never enough facts.
    This vote sounded to me like a surrealist/situationist joke. There were FOUR minarets in Switzerland. How can you organize a vote (about 4… minarets) among a population estimated at 7,169,000?
    And they all go like sheep and vote!

    Unemployment affects 5,812 people in Switzerland – which is I think the lower rate in Europe – but still, having no job affect these 5,812 people and their families more than 4 minarets I think.
    So it is worth mentioning this discrepancy between reality – 4 minarets – and fantasies made out of fear and racism.

    Good luck in escaping Durkadurkistan ; ) and please keep on sending us your comments!

  • http://islamogauchiste.blogspot.com/ princesse de Clèves, islamogauchiste

    ps – the link below gives a comment written by Ian Burama, entitled Mountains and Minarets. In this article, the author – a professor of “democracy, human rights and journalism” – suggests that Muslims are hated because they are envied. According to him, the referendum simply reveals a deep social illness – that he’s calling ” the collapse of faith, whether religious or secular”. In this respect, islamophobia – as revealed by the Swiss vote – is just a symptom.

    http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/buruma32/English

  • http://durkadurkistan.blogspot.com/ A T

    Princesse de Clèves,

    Thanks for the feedback – you’re right about the point of there only being 4 minarets. I somehow forgot to mention that.

    I just read the article by Ian Buruma you posted. It’s an interesting take; thanks for that.

    Haha I will try my best to escape Durkadurkistan. Maybe when I do I’ll have to get a new blog! In the meantime, I’ve been doing final exams and working on a long post about Asra Nomani :)

    wa salaam

  • Abu Turab

    I just read this today – a non-religious Swiss businessman, outraged with the ban, built a 20 foot tall minaret on top of his warehouse. He even has a lighting system which lights it up at night.

    Awesome.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126264916012115609.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLETopStories

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-28727-Woodside-Family-Examiner~y2010m1d5-Disneys-Aladdin-to-enjoy-or-not-to-enjoy RCHOUDH

    I’ve read of some racist crazies claiming that the minaret ban was due to the belief that “minarets represent phallic symbols of Islam coming in and raping the mother land”. It’s totally riduculous to think that some people think like that out there.


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