This edition of Agora took us to Switzerland, where amongst the Alpine tranquility a controversy is raging over the construction of minarets around mosques.
At the end of November the Swiss people will vote in a referendum on whether minarets should be banned. The idea was put forward by the populist, conservative Swiss People’s Party, which is wary of what it sees as the islamization of Swiss society. Euronews filmed a live debate between two figures at the heart of the argument: Swiss People’s Party MP Ulrich Schlüer, who put forward the proposal to ban minarets and Swiss Muslim Yahya Hassan Bajwa, a local councillor and member of the Swiss Green Party. Ulrich Schlüer: “Let’s talk about minarets. The Turkish prime minister Erdogan said that minarets are bayonets, it’s well known, don’t you remember? Erdogan was quoting a poet who directly compared the domes of mosques with soldiers’ helmets. He was comparing practising Muslims with soldiers. It’s not really a pleasant image. It’s a symbol that shows that at the heart of the argument there is political will to take power. It’s about the desire to ignore democracy and to establish, step by step, something completely different: Sharia law. And that we will not accept.” Yahya Hassan Bajwa: “On the other hand we shouldn’t forget that Mr. Erdogan was also talking about something else. After a terrorist attack in Turkey, he said that all the big religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam must fight together against terrorism, because terrorism has nothing to do with religion.”
Ulrich Schlüer:“On one hand Islam is a religion. But on the other hand Islam grants its followers a certain social behaviour. Islam requires its followers to apply certain rules, a certain religious law that we call Sharia. And Sharia law is not at all compatible with our law as it stands today in this country, Switzerland. Our law and Sharia law are at odds with each other.” Yahya Hassan Bajwa: “I once served in a military unit. I was there as a Swiss citizen of course. But I was also there as a Muslim. I’m ready to die on the front line for my Swiss people, Mr.Schlüer. I’m ready to die on the front line for our Swiss constitution and our Swiss legal order, Mr. Schlüer. I’m ready to die for your freedom of expression, Mr. Schlüer, so that you can continue to make your remarks and insinuations. But at the same time I am ready to commit myself to the freedom of religion that is an integral part of Swiss law. A freedom of religion that now you want to deprive me of. Today, here your proposal to ban minarets, which targets Swiss Muslims, is a declaration of war. You are turning minarets into a screen on which to project all the different fears in Swiss society.” Ulrich Schlüer: “Here in our country we have around 17,000 arranged marriages, forced marriages. That means there are 17,000 women who have been made, forced to marry someone who they would never marry of their own free will. This scandal is a contradiction of Swiss law. Such things have no place in Switzerland. On top of that we have a growing number of young Muslim women in Switzerland forced to endure genital mutilation. Ladies and gentlemen that is a total contradiction of Swiss law.” Yahya Hassan Bajwa: “I too, as a Muslim, am against forced marriages. I too, as a Muslim and a Swiss citizen, am against genital mutilation. We can do something together against these practices if you accept to one day accept dialogue between the religions. Yet, we mustn’t forget that the minaret can be a symbol for something completely different: the minaret can symbolise the open mind of Swiss society. The minaret can symbolise the visibility of Muslims. It concerns Muslims who are fully integrated into Swiss society. Minaret can mean we want reconciliation, we want to talk. We want to accept others.”
Ulrich Schlüer:“The European Court of Human Rights has just decided that the Christian cross cannot be shown in public buildings and public rooms. We have to take them down. At the same time we are quoting the European Court of Human Rights as saying that we can’t have a say when it comes to the construction of minarets. So according to these people we have to make the Christian cross disappear from public view but we should accept minarets! I think that exposes a problem that goes very far, very deep. The problem is the islamization of our society.” Yahya Hassan Bajwa: “The first churches were catacombs. They had no spires. The first mosques, for example the Kaaba mosque in Mecca, didn’t have minarets to begin with. The minarets around the Kaaba were built later on. Historically there is no religious obligation to build minarets around mosques. Neither is there a religious obligation to put spires on churches. Why do I think we don’t need to ban minarets? Because we don’t need a special law that says the construction of minarets is forbidden! Such a law would discriminate against one single religious group. We’ve seen that in Europe before…” Ulrich Schlüer: “We don’t want forced marriages, we don’t want genital mutilation, we don’t want stonings, we don’t want cemetaries with different areas for ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ people. That is our legal order. And we should reject minarets as a symbol for a desire to introduce a different legal order. If, that is, we still can. Now we have four minarets in Switzerland. That means we can still do something. Look at Berlin, Paris and London: there you find whole districts that are like another world, with their own laws, their own customs and their own order. There there’s no longer any chance of putting that right. So if you’re now saying ‘let’s just wait a minute’…No. If one day we have 100 or 200 minarets in Switzerland, we will no longer be able to do anything about it.” Yahya Hassan Bajwa: “You see what we’re talking about here is a peaceful society. I would sign up to your plan to ban minarets on the condition that you could guarantee me that by doing so we would solve all the problems that Muslims in Switzerland face. I and all the ther Muslims here would support your plan. But don’t forget that you are creating a problem about something that isn’t a problem. Again, if you can prove that if the minarets disappear, so too will all real problems, I would sign up to your plan today.”