Switzerland's minaret ban receives tough reception in the Middle East

12/01/2009 11:10 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Switzerland's controversial referendum decision to ban the construction of new minarets for Swiss mosques has caused varying degrees of concern in the Arab world, and attracted a wide ranging debate about the reasons behind the decision.

Independent Lebanese online daily reports that amongst observers, whether Swiss, Arab, or Muslims of any ethnicity "understanding the nature and significance of this initiative differs from one person to the next, some see it as a storm in a teacup, while others see it as flagrant evidence of the "spirit of religious war" persisting in the subconscious of many people in the West."

فهم طبيعة هذه المبادرة ودلالتها يختلف من فئة إلى أخرى، فهناك من يرى أنها زوبعة في فنجان، وهناك من يرى أنها تعبير قاطع على أن "روح الحروب الدينية" لا تزال تتحكم في لاشعور فئات واسعة في الغرب

The anti-minaret campaign in Switzerland. Picture by rytc.

While observers playing down the significance of this vote are few and far between, this decision has left many Arab Muslims feeling angry and scared. "I don't know what is happening in Switzeland. Islam is fought in every age by all possible means. May Allah (God) guide everyone. Oh Allah. Do not impose upon us, because of our sins, those who lack mercy and do not fear You," reads one comment on the story, from popular Egyptian news site Al-Youm Al Sabia.

انا مش عارف ايه اللى بيحصل ده فى سويسرا ، الاسلام حظه كده فى كل عصر انه يتحارب باى شكل من الاشكال ، وربنا يهدى الناس جميعا ، اللهم لا تسلط علينا بذنوبنا من لا يخافك ولا يرحمنا

As for why the Swiss took the decision to ban new minarets, many commentators refer to a growing anti-Islam push that is taking place throughout Europe. Renowned novelist and political activist Alaa al-Aswani, in an Op-Ed for independent Egyptian daily Al-Shrouq, insists this is not the case:

"This incident proves to us that in reality not all westerners are enemies of Islam, as some of our extremist sheikhs would have us believe.... The western racist and islamophobic ideology is not new. What is new is the fact that this ideology has increased in support because of Westerners' fear of the bloody, backwards image that some Muslims voluntarily portray of their religion. Those who signed the petition for the ban of minarets, are not necessarily racist haters of Islam, but they are afraid of a religion that they do not know and is only associated, in their minds, with murder, bloodshed and oppression of women..."

ن الفكر العنصرى الغربى الكاره للعرب والمسلمين، ليس جديدا لكن الجديد أنه يكتسب المزيد من المؤيدين وذلك بسبب خوف الغربيين من الصورة الدموية المتخلفة التى يتطوع بعض المسلمين بتقديمها عن دينهم، فالذين وقعوا العريضة من أجل منع المآذن، ليسوا بالضرورة عنصريين كارهين للإسلام، لكنهم خائفون من دين لا يعرفونه يرتبط دائما فى أذهانهم بالقتل والدماء واضطهاد المرأة.. ولنا أن نتخيل رد فعل المواطن الغربى عندما يشاهد فى التليفزيون السيد أسامة بن لادن وهو يطالب بذبح أكبر عدد من النصارى والكفار أو رد فعل المرأة الغربية عندما تستمع إلى أحد شيوخ التطرف وهو يؤكد أن المرأة المسلمة يجب أن ترتدى نقابا بعين واحدة

Another interesting dimension to this debate, is the way the decision in Switzerland has led many to question how religious minorities are treated in the Middle East. One of the 500 or so comments on al-Aswani's post asks "Why does the author bother himself with what is happening in Switzerland but does not start a campaign to eradicate the cultural roots of the repeated and ongoing attacks against Copts in Egypt?".

لماذا يوجع الكاتب رأسه بما يحدث في سويسرا ولا يقوم بتوجيه حملة تحاول القضاء على الجذور الثقافية للاعتداءات المتوالية على الأقباط في مصر

In a fascinating blog post discussing the role of the minaret not only in religion, but also in identity and heritage, Egyptian Muslim blogger Tarek closes by voicing his dissatisfaction at the ban, "in the end I am against the Swiss decision. But I am also against the Egyptian non-decision which contributes, in one way or another, to the oppression and dissolution of a people and its culture. While in Switzerland and other places, the governments may be to blame. Here the blame lies with the people."

ففي النهاية أنا ضد القرار السويسري. لكنني أيضا ضد اللا قرار المصري الذي ساهم بشكل أو بأخر في طمس هوية شعب و ثقافته. و إن كان اللوم في سويسرا و غيرها قد يقع على الحكومات فاللوم هنا يقع على الناس

You can add your voice to the Arabic-English translated thread on To learn more about us email info[at] or follow us on Twitter.

Thanks to Tom, Rebecca, and Nouran for help with translations.