"Swiss voters were misled"

Swiss Muslims have integrated well into Swiss society, according to Ismael Amin Keystone

Following Sunday's vote to ban minaret construction in Switzerland, a prominent Swiss Muslim talks to about an "aggressive and misleading" campaign.

This content was published on November 30, 2009 - 16:22

Ismael Amin, the former president of Association of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, believes Swiss Muslims' poor social standing meant they were unable to get across the real issues surrounding minarets and thus lost the battle for Swiss hearts and minds.

According to final results, 57.5 per cent of voters and a majority of cantons backed the initiative. Turnout was high, at 53 per cent.

The proposal on banning minaret construction was championed by rightwing and ultra-conservative groups. The government and most political parties as well as churches and the business community came out strongly against it. Did you expect the result to be so pronounced?

Ismael Amin: Not at all. I thought the initiative would be narrowly rejected. It's a sad day for me. How have Muslims in Switzerland reacted?

I.A.: I made some telephone calls yesterday to friends and everyone is outraged and disappointed. How do you interpret the fact that almost six out of ten voters came out against the construction of minarets?

I.A.: The campaign was fought very fiercely and aggressively. The issue of minarets was rarely discussed, it was much more about Islam – and then with misleading arguments. People brought up forced marriages – even though sharia law bans them; then there was female circumcision, which all [Muslim] jurists oppose, and burkas – not one burka has ever been seen in Switzerland.

There were also discussions on things that had absolutely no connection with minarets. People exploited and instrumentalised the public's fear and uncertainty. This explains the disappointing result. The Swiss population was misled. Is it not also a question of insufficient Muslim integration in Switzerland?

I.A.: I don't believe the Muslim population is badly integrated. Most are well integrated and practise their religion without any problem. I certainly wouldn't talk of insufficient integration. It's more to do with fears and mistrust?

I.A.: After the fall of the Soviet Union people looked around for a new enemy to hate and found it in Islam. Since then the attitude towards Islam in the media hasn't been good, so it's been easy to manipulate people and play on their ignorance. But talking about ignorance, doesn't that mean Muslims should get out more and have closer dealings with non-Muslim Swiss?

I.A.: Definitely. We need to raise our presence in Switzerland. We mustn't stay in backyards as if we were social nonentities.

The Muslim community is clearly in a weak social position, and as a result couldn't lead a counter-campaign, as the Swiss People's Party could. There are around 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland. What does the vote mean for this community?

I.A.: It's hard to predict. But I can imagine that people feel aggrieved and are looking for ways to talk with each other and analyse what can be done and how they should deal with the new situation. How should they deal with the new situation?

I.A.: I've heard in the media that it will be hard to implement this initiative. It's not even clear if it can be implemented [legally]. One possible route is towards the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. How and whether that happens, I don't know.

Gaby Ochsenbein, (Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)

In brief

Ismael Amin was born in Egypt and has lived in Switzerland since 1960.

The expert on Islam and the Arab world is the former president of Association of Islamic Organisations in Zurich.

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Clear divide

There has been a big difference between the way cities and rural areas voted in Sunday's vote, which saw 57.5% come out in favour of banning the construction of minarets in Switzerland. Turnout was high at 53%.

Up to two-thirds in rural areas voted "yes", according to data from the Federal Statistics Office.

Most big cities and towns voted against the minaret ban. Four cantons voted against it: Basel City (German-speaking), and Geneva, Vaud and Neuchâtel (French-speaking).

More than 71% of voters voted for the initiative in Appenzell Inner Rhodes, while there was a 65% acceptance in cantons Glarus, Ticino, Thurgau, Schwyz and St Gallen.

Canton Bern, with 60.7% acceptance, was above the Swiss average.

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