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Egypt: When did Saudi Arabia become Switzerland's role model?

On Sunday, November 29, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets atop mosques, paving the way for a constitutional amendment.  The referendum will affect the construction of new minarets (not mosques) and will not affect Switzerland's four existing minarets. Jillian York covered the initial reactions from the Arab and Muslim blogosphere. The ban is still creating ripples of tension among the supporters and opposition.

Mona ElTahawy has one question for Switzerland and other European countries enthralled by the right wing:

When did Saudi Arabia become your role model?

Even before 57.5 percent of Swiss voters cast ballots on Sunday to ban the building of minarets by Muslims, it was obvious that Switzerland’s image of itself as a land of tolerance was as full of holes as its cheese. When the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) came to power in 2007, it used a poster showing a white sheep kicking black sheep off the country’s flag. This was no reference to black sheep as rebels — the right wing doesn’t do cute — but to skin color and foreigners.

Posters the SVP displayed before Sunday’s referendum showed women covered from head to toe in black, standing in front of phallic-looking minarets. Such racism preceded and fed into the bigotry that fueled the referendum.

Still enraged by the notion of politicizing the minarets, ElTahawy says:

Minarets are used to issue the call to prayer, not to recruit people to Islamic political groups. If the SVP finds such prayer calls too noisy, I’d like to see it try to stifle church bells.

Mohaly wishes that:

the Swiss people would have proven to the world how unbiased and coherent they are, and instead of voting against building minarets, they could have simply voted for having the most prominent swiss product “Clocks” fixed over each new minaret (check the picture). It can be a beautiful architecture holding a practical instrument that can be of benefit for everyone without positiong it as a “Muslim Missile”!

Nawara Negm pointed a finger at bigotry:

المنافقين في الدرك الاسفل من النار ما يجيش واحد يعمل عبيط على حرق تلات بيوت في سنة ونص على ناس بتصلي ولما يسمع عن منع المآذن في سويسرا يلطم ويصوت
Hypocrites will be condemned to the lowest depths of hell! Here is a man who turned a deaf ear to three houses that were burnt down because Christians were praying in them and now he is crying wolf over the Swiss banning minarets!

Nawara reminds those who are calling for tolerance now of their earlier intolerance:

انا عايزة اسمع رأي الناس اللي بتقول ان المسيحيين في مصر “مستفزين” وسهنات ومية من تحت تبن ونفسهم يرجعوا مصر مسيحية وبناء على كده فمنعهم من بناء كنائس وحرقهم ده “رد فعل” طبيعي لاستفزازاتهم المستمرة! …. انا عايزة اعرف رأي اللي بيبرر منع دور عباداتهم وحرق بيوتهم فعلا بقى في منع المآذن، مجرد المآذن، لا هدوا جامع ولا منعوا بناء جامع، بس منظر المئذنة مضايقهم، يا ترى إيه رأيهم دلوقت؟
I want to listen to those who find Egyptian Christians provocative, sly, and conniving. That they are conspiring to turn Egypt into a Christian country and that this is why it is only fair to burn their houses and stop them from building churches. I really want to hear what such people have to say about banning the minarets – I am just talking about the minarets! Not the mosques!

In her post, Mona ElTahawy also touches on this issue:

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, for example, denounced the ban as an “attack on freedom of belief.” I would take him more seriously if he denounced in similar terms the difficulty Egyptian Christians face in building churches in his country. They must obtain a security permit just for renovations.

Last year, the first Catholic church — bearing no cross, no bells and no steeple — opened in Qatar, leaving Saudi Arabia the only country in the Persian Gulf that bars the building of houses of worship for non-Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, it is difficult even for Muslims who don’t adhere to the ultra-orthodox Wahhabi sect; Shiites, for example, routinely face discrimination.

Bigotry must be condemned wherever it occurs.

Muslims against Sharia found Libya's President Gaddafi's statement funny; he said “Swiss minaret ban invites al-Qaeda attacks.”

Therein lies the assumption that all acts of jihadist terrorism must be a response to some kind of provocation (real or imagined) from non-Muslims: after all, the apologists keep telling us “defensive” jihad is quite alright, caliph or no caliph.

The Fraggle-haired dictator also quips “I don't think anyone in the Muslim world will from now on authorise the construction of a church.”

This is ironic, of course, since 1.) it's not like the Muslim world has welcomed churches or freedom of worship with open arms up to now, and 2.) restrictions on building non-Muslim houses of worship are enshrined in the Pact of Umar, which has provided a far-reaching precedent for oppressing non-Muslims in a variety of ways. For that matter, the minaret ban does not restrict worship or the construction of mosques.

While Shokeir is monitoring signs of Western Countries getting fed up with the symbols of Islam

الغرب بدأ يضيق بالإسلام ومايرمز له ، فتلك دولة ترفض النقاب وأخرى ترفض الحجاب في هيئات بعينها ، وتلك تدافع عن صور مسيئة ، وتلك ترحب بأفلام تسيئ للقرآن ، وأخيرا أخرى تضيق برؤية المآذن بعدما منعت من قبل رفع صوت الآذان
The west is getting fed up with Islam and whatever symbols it has; here is a country that bans Niqab and there is another that prohibits Hijab. This one defends offensive pictures and that one welcomes movies that abuses the Qura'an. And now this: after silencing the calls for prayer, they banned minarets altogether.

Hassan El Helali, on the other hand, is relieved and he highlighted one of the comments on his post:

مبروك لسويسرا، و”هارد لك” للجماعات، إياها، التي تتعيش وتتكسب من تجارة الدين من المنظومة البدوية، وتتباكى على الحريات المسفوحة في ربوع أوروبا، وكأن البلاد التي فروا منها “تشرشر” الحريات منها “شرشرة”، وعلى “أبو موزة”. وإذا كانت أوروبا مستبدة ولا تحترم الأديان فلم لا يطلبوا اللجوء السياسي والإنساني في إمارة المحاكم الإسلامية في الصومال، وهناك سيتعرفون جيداً على معنى الحرية على أكمل وجه.
Congratulations Switzerland! Hard Luck to “those” groups that live and thrive on commercializing religion stemming out of their tribal organization. Those groups crying over the violated freedoms of Muslims living in Europe as though their countries of birth – the countries they escaped – are soaked in tolerance. Fine! If Europe is guilty of bigotry, why didn't they ask for political asylum or immigrant rights in an Islamic colony in Somalia? – for this is where they would have learnt the true meaning of freedom.
  • kactuz

    Shokeir is right. I, for one, am “fed up with islam” and the unending complaining, bigotry and hipocrisy from Muslims. I decided about 7 years ago not to give an inch to any Muslim when it comes to their religion. No, I don’t kick them but I sure dont hesitate to let my feelings be known. Note that I took the time to study Islamic writings in depth(months and months invested there).

    This post is encouraging because at least some of the bloggers above, Muslim bloggers I might add, point out this bigotry of generalized Muslim discrimination against non-Muslims in Islamic societies. This relates to the rather strange fact that Muslims seem to have few moral standards for themselves (except in the form of rituals, diets, clothing, verbal address — which to me amount to less than a hill of beans) yet they demand perfection, tolerance and respect from others – non-Muslims – as we see in this minaret issue.

    Unless European leaders stop their disasterous political correctness and multiculturalism things are going to get ugly. If they continue to ignore the concerns of the people and the implications of Muslim immigration, we will see more people turning to right-wing parties like the SVP, BNP and others. Then it will get really bad. These leaders and Muslims will have nobody to blame but themselves, but of course, they will blame the middle class for being “ignorant,”"intolerant,” “racist” and (add other slander here….) .

    I think it is going to get ugly. Based upon history and Islamic theology, I don’t think that Muslims, in significant numbers, can live in peace with non-Muslims. That is not a pleasant though but I believe it is realistic.

    • S. A. Khan

      Jewish people lived happily enough in North Africa for a very long time when they were being persecuted in Europe. I would venture to say that the European leaders understand the situation fairly, but unable to act in the manner suggested due to economic reasons. Money continues to flow from Mid-east countries to keep high standard of the European Society. If Europe & US would not protect the undemocratic regimes in the mid-east and the so called third world immigration problem will continue. For example there were very few immigrant from Iraq before First Bush took power. Iraq, in spite of being ruled by a rouge, prospered very quickly and developed to a secular country with comparatively better educated people than her Arab neighbours. Such progress was not liked by the western powers. They had to attack Iraq for one excuse or another and they did. Saddam may have killed five thousand Kurds, but Bush and Blair killed 1.6 million Iraqis and produced large number of immigrants. In the process the West looted trillions of dollars and will continue to do so. Now excuses are being manufactured against Iran for another war for more money and more immigrants for the west.

    • Gaby HB

      This is not about Saudi Arabia becoming the role model for the Swiss, but rather about the Swiss claiming their right.

      So here are some facts about living as a Non-Muslim in a country that has a main Muslim denomination which are not discussed or taken in consideration when discussing the rights of Muslim people living abroad (here with reference to Switzerland):

      1. Women are required to dress according to the Muslim dress code;
      2. If you are not married – you cannot live in same house as your boyfriend or girlfriend;
      3. As a non Muslim, you still cannot hold hands in public of show any affection.
      4. In some Muslim countries a woman is required to walk behind the man and definitely she is not allowed to talk in public – again the rule does apply for non Muslim residents or visitors.
      5. During Ramadan, even if you are a visitor you are not to drink or eat during the day.
      6. How many Muslim countries allow the practice and recognize other religions?

      And this are just few facts that come to my mind. All of those requirements are fine because one should respect the rules and regulations of the country that they visiting or want to emigrate to. But, my question is why does this not apply to those of Muslim denomination that visit or want to emigrate in let say a country with its main denomination being Buddhist, Jewish or Christian?

      I have been watching for a while what is happening around the world and kept on asking myself when this unfairness will stop. I do not think that is only about the Muslim , I think is down to the right of every country to protect their culture and history. I think that is about the fact that if you wish to live in a country not of your origin, you as outsider should comply and live by their rules and respect their tradition.

      So yes, Switzerland is not a Muslim country, and I support that whoever want to live in this country should comply to their way of living and not try to impose their own ways.

      In Switzerland are also Buddhists, and yet I never read about them complaining regarding not being able to practice their religion. Why? Because they are aware of the fact that the Swiss people lived ion this land before they did, that the Swiss traditions, culture and the religion that they are practicing was there long before they arrived and that must be respected.

      For all those that say that the Swiss are wrong I have one question:

      If I was to visit You and have been welcomed in your house, would you like if I start moving your furniture around, break walls and change the design of your house, bring animals to live in and make a shrine in your living room and then demand that you move your TV because its bothering me when I pray?

      A country is the HOME of the people that lived and settled there for hundreds or thousands of years, and the same way one respects the rules of the house when you visiting someone, one should respect the rules, traditions and religion of the country.

      And as final ending, I am Not Swiss – but I am a foreigner living in Switzerland.

  • http://www.worriedlebanese.wordpress.com Worried Lebanese

    Great title, and great selection of diverging point of views!
    thanks a lot for this great read.

  • Amin Mahmoud

    If any of the blogger or writers above is fair, then they should be consistence against discriminations regardless of religion, country, or any believes. Yes Saudi Arabia is behaving against Islamic believes to bars the building of worship houses for non-Muslims. Islam gives them these rights. Also the out rages of Egyptian government and the one like the grand Mufti of Egypt who they never react to the violent against Copts in Egypt, we witness incidents of sectarian violence against Egypt’s indigenous Coptic Christians increases with the silence of the Egyptian authorities either they were directly complicit in the violence or did not properly protect the rights of the Christians and their properties.
    The minaret ban, prohibits Hijab, bans Niqab, cartons against the prophet, and silencing the calls for prayer. All from the west is equality hypocrite while talking about civilize, tolerant, freedom of religion, and freedom of expressions in their society, it is but acting against Islam with closed minded action using the actions of individuals who they believe represent Islam.
    Let’s judge both from the west and from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and others action is equally ignorant and short of any human rights, religion freedom, and human dignity.

    • JS

      Comparing what is happening to Christians in Saudi Arabia and Egypt to the generous treatment that Muslims receive in the west – is a joke.

      Muslims in the west are more or less getting everything they want. It may not be perfect – but it is light years ahead of the treatment non Muslims receive in Muslim lands. It is very insulting to me to hear you even put the two in the same sentence.

  • kactuz

    I suppose you are talking about me. In fact I agree with you, but the fact remains that the Swiss decision is peanuts compared to the often ruthless and systematic discrimination of non-Muslims in Islamic societies.

    It is not just Saudi Arabia but almost every Muslim country. No, the Quran doesn’t give non-Muslims many rights and these are limited to only certain groups (jews and Christians mostly). Other religions are promised “die or convert.” Buddhism used to be common in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan up until about the 9th century. I wonder what happened to them? Can you guess?

    What is wrong with “cartoons”? Are you against freedom of speech? Oh, you say they are insulting. Well, why don’t Muslims stop insulting (and killing) us? Or do you think Muslims insults are ok, including the vile things said in the Quran about infidels, but Muslim insults are wonderful? Why is it wrong to associate your prophet with violence? Have you read the hadith? This man attacked his neighbors year after year. He personally led 26-27 expeditions against villages, many of them at night or in the early moring. He sent out 2 dozen more. He fought about a dozen battles, of which only two can be considered defensive (near his home). Any Iman will tell you this. Or do you think Mohammud conquered Arabia by sending flowers and “get well cards” to his neighbors?

    And why should we not use the “actions of individuals who say they believe represent Islam” as an example of Muslim behavior? It is funny that these people are good Muslims, go to mosques, say the shahada, keep the five pillars, etc… until they kill a bunch of people and then you want us to believe they aren’t really Muslims? Most of them have been to Mecca on Hajj, so I quess other Muslims accept them as Muslims, too. Not only that, the actions of these people are sanctioned in the Quran and hadith. So yes, I think it is reasonable to believe that these people represent Islam, just like you.

    The idea the islam and the West are “equality hypocrite” is absurd. Non-Muslims in Islamic societies would be overjoyed if the had the same rights and treatment as Muslims receive in the West.

    Amin, let me talk to you now as an old man to probably a younger one. I am very cynical about human nature, all human nature – not just Islam. I do believe that Muslims and Islam are going to be a problem for the West, even as they are for Islamic countries. I believe that there is going to be violence in the streets. Understand that I also believe there are a bunch of other problems unfolding, not related to the Islam-West problem, such as overpopulation, disease, the Asian challenge, crime, hunger, economic collapse of the West, immorality and so on. Of all the bad things that can happen (and some probably will) the most obvious- and certain – is Islamic violence. I look and see some good Muslims, but I also see that they are doing nothing but making excuses. When they tell me that Islam teaches peace and respects human rights and so on… I wonder what they have been smoking., or drinking or injecting, or whatever. I know the Quran and hadith. The fact that these good Muslims, outstanding citizens even, will not look at the parts of their religion that plainly teach hate and violence makes me believe that these people are either ignorant (probably not), in denial (more likely) or just deceitful and evil. Anyway, I don’t trust them because they have different standards for different people.

    If there is any hope that this conflict can be avoided, Muslims and Islam will have to change and renounce the hate and violence. They will have to stop discriminating and repeal all apostasy laws and so on. Hey, nothing teaches toilerance (and patience) like a bunch of jehovah Witnesses knocking on your door every month. Sure, I want to cram their “Lighthouse” tracts down their throats but I control myself and tell myself it is a small price to pay for freedom of speech and belief.

    Ignoring this Islam-based discrimination or pretending it is not there is not an option. I doubt Muslims will reform or change so it will get worse. Just asking people in the West to be nice, not to discriminate, and to respect Muslims will not change anything. Take care.

  • http://www.paramedictotheprince.com Saudimedic

    I had my passport photo’s torn up in Saudi Arabia because I was wearing a cross. You are not allowed to bring a Bible into Saudi. A group of Asians were having a private bible study in a home, when the religous police broke in and arrested them.

    A good book about Saudi is: “Paramedic to the Prince” it was written by an American Paramedic that spent ten years working there. It really opened my eyes..

  • SAS

    Two wrongs do not make a right.

    Outside of Saudi Arabia Christians have the right to build churches. In Qatar, they recently built a church to accomodate expatriates in those countries, and in the UAE, Kuwait and Egypt churches have been allowed for years and church steeples are not expressly banned.

    So the question of whether Switzerland considers Saudi Arabia to be its role model is a legitimate one. The Saudis ban churches due to the intolerance of religious zeolots, in a sense the Swiss ban is even more retrograde as it has the stamp of approval of public opinion at large.

    • Robby

      SAS – you are right, two wrongs do not make a right. I don’t think banning the minarets if fair, and more then likely would be struck down in the US by the Supreme Court.

      But about that church in Qatar – please read this article – http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,338014,00.html

      it was built without steeple, without a cross and without a bell. “The cross should not be raised in the sky of Qatar, nor should bells toll in Doha,” wrote Lahdan bin Issa al-Muhanada, a leading columnist in Doha’s Al-Arab newspaper.

      “But some people in this Muslim country have branded it an offense; one prominent politician has called for a national referendum to determine its fate.”

  • breezer1

    great dialog here. i am just finishing ‘politically incorrect guide to islam’ and find it interesting and somewhat scary.
    anyone like to comment on this book? thanks and merry Christmas to all.

  • nermin

    muslims are phobic of europeans who confuse integration with losing identity just as much as the west is phobic about the islam seen on tv or in the crowded areas in the end of the city. Everyone ishappy with his/her perfect world where they would listen to the other side and deep down saying that this is total nonesense.
    SVP called to ban disabled people benefits since they go to work like everyone else. How inhuman is this world turning to be.. this whole media scam is just so sick.

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    I can’t speak for Europe but U.S. laws are very open and allow for free speech and freedom of expression, be it religious or otherwise. This doesn’t mean that Americans won’t complain or be ignorantly bigoted, as that is their right as Americans… freedom of speech after all. What needs to be clear is that freedom does not equal tolerance or accceptance… that is up to the individual. Calling the west “equally hypocritical” is a joke. We allow mosques to be built and we allow freedom of religion. We have laws against racial and religious violence (in addition to violence against women and homosexuals). They’re called hate crimes and they carry harsher punishments than other violent crimes because of the disasterous outcomes that ensue if action is not taken by the government to quell these wrong doings. Do harsher laws for hate crimes exist in the Middle East? I doubt it.

    Look, no one religion has it right. Some Christians are just as violent and closed minded as some Muslims (and I say “some” because I know not everyone is that way). Look at the Crusades as a comparison to Jihad. I was raised Catholic and if I questioned a belief or the actions of the priest I was told I was going to hell for questioning my faith. I believe in God but I’ve lost my faith in organized religion, Catholicism or otherwise. If your faith promotes violence and hate and you don’t agree with it, then stop following it because asking a religion to change thier doctrine is pointless. Sorry, but it’s never going to happen.

    Acceptace is the key here, not tolorance. Tolorance conotes puting up with something that you don’t agree with while acceptance conotes acepting people’s differences… in essence, agreeing to disagree. Religious groups and governments (especially governments) must start to accept one another for who and what they are. Our close minded world will never change if we are not successful in accepting one another and agreeing that although we don’t think the same, our views have just as much merit as someone else’s views.

    • Manzoor H. Sarkar

      I like your approach . I find it very astonishing that religion is yet so important to people’s life in this twenty first century . What I can recall is that religion brought and created only problems over the centuries to the human race . It divided people , led to many wars & hatred among people It had some social role in the past to norm the family & social conduct and show guidance to human behavior & activities . With the introduction of civic constitutions in modern sate running , those functions are now regulated by laws & legal methods . It should be now limited to private affairs . So , now to quarrel over religion supremacy in this high tech globalized communicative world is really funny . Either it derives from ignorance , superstitions , illiteracy or hypocritical & selfish economic interests , the latter being more dangerous and harmful . This group represents the extremists flanks of every religion and poses a threat to world peace & harmony . In this regard , the Talibans & other Muslim extremists or the Jewish orthodox hardliners or The Evangelists in the USA are the same to me . They all send wrong & hateful message .

  • Al-x

    but isn’t it so that Islam condemns icons?
    what, is a minaret not just that, in that it ‘represents’ a call to prayer?

    your comments, from experts on the matter (only), please.

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