Swiss citizens to vote on a minaret ban in two days; interview with one of the initiators of the referendum
Friday, November 27, 2009
More than 110,000 signed the petition of the SVP (Swiss People's Party) to hold a binding referendum to prohibit the construction of minarets. The posters of the yes campaign have offended the more than 400,000 Muslims who live in this state in the centre of Europe. In them is shown a violent and aggressive image of the religious community that, in Switzerland's case, comes mainly from Turkey and the Balkans.
Ulrich Schlüer is a member of the SVP and the leader of the initiative against minarets. His controversial remarks have generated a heated debate in the country.
Q: - Why has a referendum been arranged to prohibit the construction of minarets in Switzerland?
A: - Minarets open the door to sharia (Islamic law) in Switzerland. We see them as a symbol of political Islam.
A: - We do not have the same situation as in Berlin, Paris or London. In Switzerland the problem is just beginning, which is when it can be solved. It's true that we have few minarets, but on the other hand there are 17,000 women that are forced to marry their husbands, and this is against our constitution. We do not accept any other law, because our laws do not come from heaven nor are they proclaimed by a dictator. Anyone can come to Switzerland at any time as long as they respect our laws.
Q: - But a minaret is just a tower of cement joined to a mosque, is it not?
A: - A minaret is a construction but is also a symbol. The political message of a minaret, which has no religious significance, is: "We want to implement Islamic law", and there are mosques in Switzerland in which this is openly said.
Q: - You have no problem with the faithful of other religion, but you do with Muslims. So why not propose a total prohibition of Islam in place of the minarets?
A: - No, Islam as a religion must be respected. In Switzerland we have religious freedom. Here we have Hindus, Buddhists...but we have no intention to change our law.
Q: - But even if the construction of minarets is forbidden, there will still be forced marriage, burkas will still be worn...
A: - Yes, this is true. We cannot change the situation into another in one day. But keep in mind how democracy functions in Switzerland. If politicians see that more than 50% of the population believes that the problem is not solved, they will react and do something about it because they want to be reelected.
Q: - In Switzerlands there have been two waves of Muslim immigration, one at the end of the 1960s and another in the 1990s, but this debate has only taken place just now. What has changed?
A: - In the 1960s we had 16,000 Muslims in Switzerland, but now there are about half a million. We have spokespeople in the Muslim community that believe that Switzerland should have two laws - sharia for them, and another regular law for the rest. This did not happen 40 years ago.
Q: - In Switzerland, one in every four inhabitants is foreign and 5% of the population is Muslim. Does this type of initiative help their integration?
A: - Why not? For decades, important problems in Switzerland were put on the table and discussed openly. If this debate is done away with, that's when you have problems. There are many Muslims that are on our side in this initiative because they are against the growing number of Muslims that want to establish sharia and defend stoning, etc. We are not ashamed to defend our values and our democracy.
A: - The poster has a clear message: it begins with minarets and ends with the burka. Every one who looks at it for a second understands what it means. There is nothing illegal or offensive in that poster.
Q: - But I still see missiles (in the poster)...
A: - (Note: the original answer in the article is worded a bit badly for a literal translation so paraphrasing would be a better idea. His answer was that alluding to minarets as weapons was not his idea in the first place, that it was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (the Prime Minister of Turkey) for example who alluded to minarets as "their bayonets". Erdoğan went to jail for four months for that, by the way.)
For more on the minaret controversy and referendum, see here and here. Marseille in France is also facing the same issue, with the construction of a mosque there causing quite a stir.