Saturday, December 12, 2009
The OIC Secretary General is disappointed, and OIC Group in Geneva strongly condemns decision to ban construction of minarets in Switzerland
The Secretary General of the OIC, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, voiced his disappointment and concern with the result of the public referendum that took place in Switzerland on November 29, 2009 on the initiative to ban building of minarets in the mosques in Switzerland.
The Secretary General qualified the ban as an unfortunate development that would tarnish the image of Switzerland as a country upholding respect for diversity, freedom of religion and human rights and also as a recent example of growing anti-Islamic incitements in Europe by the extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scare-mongering ultra-right politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values.
He recalled that the UN Committee on Human Rights had clearly pronounced its concern on the ban as a discriminatory practice that violated fundamental human rights including the freedom of religion.
Secretary General Ihsanoglu expressed his deep regret that at a time when the Muslim world and Muslim societies around the world have been engaged in a struggle to fight extremism, the western societies are being hostage to extremists who exploit Islam as a scapegoat and a springboard to develop their own political agenda which in turn contributes to polarization and fragmentation in the societies.
He stated that the development also highlighted the need for promoting genuine dialogue at the grass-roots level to alleviate all misunderstandings and misinformation that lead to intolerance and misconceptions.
In this regard, he appreciated the position of many Swiss political and religious leaders from all sides who expressed unequivocally their rejection for any attempt to undermine the rights of Muslims in Switzerland.
The issue was taken up between the OIC Secretary General and Foreign Minister of Swiss Confederation Mrs. Micheline Calmy-Rey who called the OIC Secretary General by phone following the official announcement regarding the results of the voting. The Secretary General conveyed to the Swiss Foreign Minister that with due respect to the sovereign and legitimate right of the Swiss people and democratic principles governing the Swiss Confederation in adopting any legislative measure, the decision of the Swiss people stood to be interpreted as xenophobic, prejudiced, discriminative and against the universal human rights values and it would tarnish the reputation of the Swiss people as a tolerant and progressive society. The Secretary General urged the Swiss authorities to remain vigilant in addressing any move, which may fuel extremism, misunderstanding, misperception and intolerance among communities and that he remained confident that Swiss political leaders would not spare any effort to preserve the image of their country as guardian of the international human rights instruments.
As the Muslim public opinion is following the issue with concern, the Secretary General appealed to the Muslim societies to abide by peaceful and democratic means in expressing their views on the issue. He stated that the OIC General Secretariat will continue to follow the developments very closely.
Meanwhile, the OIC Ambassadorial Group in Geneva communicated to the Swiss Government a letter in which the discriminatory decision to ban constructing minarets was strongly condemned. The letter, which was forwarded to the Swiss Government on December 3, stated, “the decision was a manifest attack on an Islamic symbol which could only serve to spread hatred and intolerance towards Muslims in general and those living in Switzerland in particular.”
The OIC Ambassadorial Group in Geneva drew the attention of Swiss Government to the fact that “Muslims in Switzerland were peaceful and law abiding citizens. The ban was, therefore, a discriminatory measure that would lead to intolerance towards this community”.
The OIC Group in Geneva welcomed the balanced and constructive statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on December 1 in which she described the vote as “a discriminatory, deeply divisive and thoroughly unfortunate step” that risked putting Switzerland “on a collision course with its international human rights obligations”. She also stated that “politics based on xenophobia or intolerance was extremely disquieting, wherever they occurred” and that “they were corrosive, and – beyond a certain point – could become highly disruptive and even dangerous”. The OIC Ambassadorial Group believed that the High Commissioner was correct to point out that “if allowed to gather momentum, discrimination and intolerance not only do considerable harm to individual members of the targeted group, but they also divide and harm society in general”.
This ban also stands in sharp contradiction to Switzerland’s international human rights obligations concerning freedom of expression, conscience and religion. It adds to the danger that this trend could spread to encompass other areas and activities related to the Muslims in Switzerland. There are reports that the Swiss Peoples Party is now planning further referenda to ban the headscarf among other measures.
The OIC Group has consistently pointed towards the xenophobic and Islamophobic trends in Western societies. The Swiss ban should serve as a warning sign and a wake-up call for all Western countries where calls are being made for similar policies, as it would lead to divisive and discriminatory practices against their Muslim populations.
The OIC Group has taken note of the opposition by the Government of Switzerland to this ban but regrets that “the absence of a more pronounced and concerted campaign against the ban gave its proponents a heavy margin in the referendum. It is hoped that the Swiss Government would do all in its powers to rescind this decision through appropriate parliamentary and judicial measures.
The OIC Ambassadors further hope that sustained efforts would be made by the Swiss authorities in particular and western authorities in general including the civil society, to fight the scourge of discrimination and xenophobia.