UPSETS, THREATS AND MINARETS
Eltahawy is one of a few writers whose essays appear regularly
in both the Western and Arab press. Her opinion pieces have been
published frequently in the International Herald Tribune,
The Washington Post, the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat
newspaper and Qatar’s Alarab. Her website: www.monaeltahawy.com
and blog: www.monaeltahawy.com/blog
question for Switzerland and other European countries enthralled
by the right wing: When did Saudi Arabia become your role model?
before 57.5 percent of Swiss voters cast ballots 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 colour 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
the election results sparked cries of "Islamophobia,"
but the situation for Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims is not (yet)
dire. The four existing minarets were not affected by the vote,
and there are still 150 mosques or prayer rooms in which to
the Council of Europe, the continent's top human-rights watchdog
-- whose chairmanship, ironically, Switzerland recently took
over -- has already said the ban could violate fundamental liberties,
and the Swiss justice minister said the European Court of Human
Rights could strike down the vote.
the real issue here is more fundamental than whether or when
Muslims can build minarets in Switzerland. Until Europe confronts
long-simmering questions about how it treats immigrants -- Muslims
and others -- the continent will continue to convulse with embarrassing
right-wing eruptions that strip it of any right to preach to
anyone on human rights and liberties.
is an aging continent that depends on the "foreigners"
its right-wing politicians love to rail about. In Switzerland,
for example, it's difficult for immigrants and even their children
to get citizenship.
a Muslim who believes in the separation of church (and mosque
and synagogue) and state, I pay attention when people say they
are opposed to political Islam. But to suggest, as nationalist
parties in Switzerland did, that minarets are symbols of political
Islam is ridiculous.
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.
the specter of "political Islam" or "creeping
Islamicization" to frighten voters diminishes the concerns
that ought to be discussed, such as an ideology's opposition
to many minority and women's rights. And that's where the difficult
questions lie for Europe's Muslims. They, too, have a right
wing that breeds on fear and preaches an exclusionary and inward-looking
Islam. It is the perfect foil for the non-Muslim political right
wing on the continent. But while these conservative Muslim views
might hold some moral sway, they have none of the political
power of the SVP and its cohorts.
condemnations from the Muslim world -- where some have semi-jokingly
called for a boycott of Swiss chocolate -- underscore the other
sort of hypocrisy that must be confronted if Muslim complaints
of bigotry are to be taken seriously.
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.
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.
must be condemned wherever it occurs. If majority-Muslim countries
want to criticize the mistreatment of Muslims living as minority
communities elsewhere, they should be prepared to withstand the
same level of scrutiny regarding their own mistreatment of minorities.
Millions of non-Muslim migrant workers have helped build Saudi
Arabia. Human rights groups have long condemned the slave-like
conditions that many toil under, and the possibility of Saudi
citizenship is nonexistent. Muslim nations have been unwilling
to criticize this bigotry in their midst, and Europeans should
keep in mind that the minaret ban takes them in this direction.