POLITICAL ISLAM GETS SWITZERLAND'S GOAT
By R. John Matthies
He is familiar across the nation as title character of Alois Carigiet's Zottel, Zick und Zwerg (Anton the Goatherd), 1966 winner of the Swiss Youth Book prize. But, most important, he is the SVP's partial answer to the question, posed by Dr. Samuel P. Huntington, of Who Are We?: The Challenges to America's National Identity. For reasons of Zottel's folksy appeal, and as much for his party's electoral weight, critical journalists have begun to describe Switzerland a "laboratory for populists." Belgium's Le Soir asked readers to shun the Alpine nation.
But no matter: Zottel's handlers are bounding over the 29% they earned in October's vote. This cements the Party's position as first [largest single] political formation in the Swiss Confederation -- a distinction they first earned in 2003. Since that time, the SVP's share of the Swiss National Council has grown to 62 seats of 200. The second-place Social Democrats, meanwhile, dropped nine, to settle for 43.
Until two decades ago, the SVP was a lightweight agrarian formation; but, under the influence of billionaire industrialist and Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, the Party has grown to embrace "Europhobia," a neo-liberal economic platform, and a certain idea of "Swissness."
Critics are quick to compare Blocher to Austria's Jörg Haider, or to Frenchman Jean-Marie Le Pen. But Party leaders dismiss talk of "Alpine Fascism"; and the SVP website (in German and in French) pains to present a nationalism consistent with Heidi and Ricola commercial spots.
Campaign literature describes a party beholden to Switzerland, and to no other. And the Party's electoral platform invites judges to censure practices at odds with "Swiss values." These, Party spokesmen write, include genital excision, "crimes of honor," polygamy, and discrimination against women. The Party also speaks to freedom of conscience and opinion, while rejecting, in the tradition of Swiss secularism, "political claims of religious inspiration and their symbols." This refers to minarets, specifically.
The Party kicked off a signature drive in May, 2007, to force an obligatory referendum banning minarets, which Blocher's party considers both an accessory of worship and a "sign of domination." Party spokesmen write:
To bolster this argument, the Party summons Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, as Mayor of Istanbul, received a sentence of 10 months for bowdlerizing an Islamic poem. The Mayor's version, read publicly, says: "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers."
The SVP literature also argues that "arguments that serve today to justify minaret construction will be used, in turn, to justify muezzins [those who call to prayer]." This has not, so far, been cause for alarm: Switzerland counts only two minarets today -- one in Zurich and one in Geneva -- and the call to prayer is allowed from neither. But the Party's position, on principle, is clear: "It's high time to let the Swiss people decide on the question of minarets in their nation." And the wind, at present, blows in the Party's favor: Earlier in the year, for example, Lausanne's Matin published results of a survey claiming 43% of Swiss support a ban on minarets.
SVP parliamentarian Oskar Freysinger claims the Party has nothing against Muslims or the Islamic faith. "But we don't want minarets," he stated. Freysinger continued:
Mr. Freysinger and his party may well be "paranoid," as critical journalists have claimed; but with the appeal of their message and the result of October's elections, they have succeeded in demanding the famously neutral Swiss to decide between (1) Western multiculturalism, which views the minaret as symbol of "respect, cohesion, and citizen solidarity"; or (2) the national tradition of direct democracy, in which the people's will (however paranoid) is binding.
Will minarets one day festoon the Alpine horizon? It's for the Swiss to decide if that's a good thing -- or if, as Zottel claims, it's ba-a-a-a-ad.
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R. John Matthies is Assistant Director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The foregoing article by R. John Matthies was originally published in the American Thinker, November 8, 2007, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-ā-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat.
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