Switzerland: Multicultural Paradise?
In March, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service announced that a growing number of jihadists are being recruited in Switzerland. The number of robberies and assaults on Swiss trains has skyrocketed to such an extent that the Swiss government recently opted to equip transport police with firearms, and at least 1,400 women in Switzerland have been victims of forced marriages.
A controversial new report by the Swiss government claims that Muslim immigrants are so well integrated into Swiss society that no further federal policies or programs are needed to promote Muslim integration or to counter Islamic extremism.
Published by the Swiss Federal Council [Bundesrat] on May 8, the 102-page study -- known by the short title, "The Situation of Muslims in Switzerland" -- so completely downplays the countless problems associated with Muslim immigration in Switzerland that the report has been ridiculed as being worthy of a "case study in political correctness."
The report was first commissioned by proponents of multiculturalism within the Swiss Cabinet shortly after Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum in November 2009 to ban the construction of minarets, the tower-like structures on mosques that are often used to call Muslims to prayer.
The surprise outcome of the referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5% of the voters, represented a turning point in the debate about Muslim immigration in Switzerland.
Among other matters, the referendum exposed the growing gap between Swiss multiculturalists and ordinary Swiss voters on the issue of Muslim immigration. The Swiss Federal Council had campaigned hard against the ban, arguing it would "endanger peace between religions" and "hinder integration." After the ban was approved, the government launched a multi-pronged effort to "educate" the Swiss populace through taxpayer-funded pro-Islam research.
The latest report estimates the Muslim population of Switzerland to be between 350,000 and 400,000, or around 5% of the total population of 8 million. The vast majority of Muslims in the country originate from the Balkans, Turkey and North Africa, and roughly one-third are Swiss citizens. Many of them are second- and third-generation immigrants firmly establishing themselves in Switzerland.
The report says that most Muslims in Switzerland are not religious; only 12% to 15% of Muslims in the country regularly attend a mosque. According to the study, Islam in Switzerland is neither homogenous nor monolithic; it is organized around multiple ethno-linguistic identities that rarely interact with each other.
The greatest barriers to Muslim integration are due to language, not religion, says the study, and serious problems related to Islam occur "only in exceptional cases." The study notes that the vast majority of Muslims are fully integrated into Swiss society, that Islam presents no particular problems for daily life in Switzerland, and that Islam rarely leads to social conflict. As a result, the study says, the government has decided that no further measures are necessary to promote Muslim integration.
At the same time, however, the report says that Muslims in Switzerland often feel discriminated against, and that the government needs to do more to educate Swiss citizens about "Islamophobia." Muslim "victims" also need to be better informed of their legal rights under existing anti-discrimination laws.
Needless to say, Muslims have welcomed the government's conclusions. In a press release, the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS), a radical Salafist group that states its desire to install Islamic Sharia law in Switzerland, said the report provides information that could help "reduce widespread fear in the Swiss population." The IZRS -- which has been monitored by Swiss intelligence for its anti-constitutional activities -- also called on the Swiss Federal Council to take action against the "spread of Islamophobia" in Switzerland.
The study has left many Swiss voters scratching their heads in disbelief because it is common knowledge that the twin issues of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration are far more problematic than the rosy assessment proffered by Swiss cabinet.
According to a recent survey of popular perceptions of Islam produced by the Bertelsmann Foundation, fully half of all Swiss voters view Islam as a threat to their country, and 58% believe it does not belong in the Western world. Two-thirds of Swiss voters view Islam as a source of conflict. Considering that hardly a day goes by without news of some Islam-related problem in Switzerland, those survey results are not surprising.
In May 2013, for example, it emerged that more than two-thirds of the pupils attending 80 schools in Zürich do not speak any German. At one school in the Sihlfeld district of Zürich, only one pupil is a native German speaker. In Basel, the lack of German language skills among Muslim immigrants is so acute that politicians are seeking to establish quotas at the so-called ghetto schools, requiring that at least 30% of the students at any given school be native German speakers.
Also in May, the Supreme Court of Switzerland ruled that a 14-year-old Muslim girl could not be excused from swimming lessons just because the teacher was male. Her parents had sought permission, but school officials had rejected the request. In its ruling, the Supreme Court referred to a 2008 ruling that established the principle that obligatory swimming lessons take precedence over religious duties.
In April, it emerged that since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the crime rate in Switzerland has doubled, and some politicians are now demanding that all male asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East provide DNA samples that would be stored in a data bank to help Swiss police investigate crimes.
In March, the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) warned that a growing number of jihadists [holy warriors] are being recruited in Switzerland. In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Berner Oberländer on March 11, the head of Swiss intelligence, Markus Seiler, said, "What worries us, is that there are more and more people in our country who are recruiting Swiss people for jihad." More than two dozen Swiss Muslims are thought to have travelled to Syria to join the fighting there.
In February, the Vimentis polling platform, in its annual survey for 2013, found that immigration is by far the top issue of concern for Swiss voters. It also found that nearly 70% of Swiss voters favor increasing the number of police officers in the country due to rising levels of insecurity.
In January, Swiss authorities said they are bracing for a massive increase in asylum seekers in 2013. The government had budgeted for 23,000 asylum applications for 2013, but that figure is forecast to hit 30,000. Costs to deal with political refugees are expected to explode to 1.43 billion francs ($1.5 billion).
In November 2012, the chief of police for the Swiss canton of Zug, Beat Villiger, said Switzerland needs at least 1,500 more police officers to fight a crime wave perpetrated by foreign gangs. Villiger said: "The professionalization of criminals in the areas of pickpocketing, tricks and skimming [from ATM machines using duplicate credit card readers and wireless cameras] is rising." He also called for special prisons for failed asylum seekers and increased video surveillance in trains. The number of robberies and assaults on Swiss trains has skyrocketed to such an extent that the Swiss government recently opted to equip transport police with firearms.
Also in November, Swiss police arrested several members of a Muslim gang called Jamahat who forced adolescents from disadvantaged families in the cities of Le Locle and La Chaux-de-Fonds to convert to Islam and then to sell drugs. The Jamahat gang is made up of young Muslim men originally from Afghanistan, Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia. According to police, the group "is attempting to radicalize its activities by seeking to impose -- by physical and psychological violence -- a monopoly on the sale of marijuana in our region."
In nearby Lausanne, the imam of a local mosque was accused of polygamy after he married a Swiss woman who converted to Islam. Both the imam and the woman were already legally married to other spouses. The polygamous marriage was performed in a religious ceremony; however, in Switzerland only civil marriages are officially recognized by the state.
In October, Muslims complained about "offensive" advertising by Swiss Airlines. The campaign included large-format posters depicting an airplane with the red and white cross of the Swiss flag painted on the tail fin, accompanied by the slogan "Cross is Trump" [Kreuz ist Trumpf, a play on words referring to card games]. Muslims were outraged by what they said was a "Christian slogan used as a provocation and attack against Islam." Swiss Airlines said its advertising campaign carries no religious or political message.
Also in October, a sixth grade boy at a school in Winterthur was forced to change schools after Muslim children repeatedly pressured him to convert to Islam. The problems began after one of the boys, whose father is an imam, tried to force the boy to pray to Allah. After the boy refused, the Muslim child began ridiculing his Christian faith. Soon thereafter, other Muslim classmates (14 of the 19 boys in the sixth grade class are Muslim) began harassing the boy, even calling for him to be killed for refusing to bow the knee to Allah. Muslim children at the same school have also sought to enforce Islamic dress codes.
That same month, a gym teacher at the André-Chavanne school in Geneva prevented female students from using a track field on Fridays because of complaints from a nearby mosque. When outraged parents confronted the teacher, she justified her action by saying she was concerned for the girls' safety because Muslims had previously shouted insults at them.
In September, the Swiss House of Representatives voted against banning Muslim women from wearing burkas in public spaces. Parliamentarians who voted against the burka ban argued it would "encourage negative opinions of Switzerland" and "hurt tourism from Muslim countries."
In August, a study conducted by a pair of academics from the University of Neuchâtel found that at least 1,400 Muslim women in Switzerland have been the victims of forced marriages. Most forced marriages involve Muslim immigrants from the Balkans, Turkey and Sri Lanka.
In June, Swiss police warned that radical Muslim groups are using Switzerland as a base from which to promote jihad in Europe and beyond. Islamists in Switzerland are providing jihadists with logistical support, and also stepping up their use of Internet websites there to spread Islamic propaganda as well as to incite their supporters to commit acts of terrorism and violence. In response to the rising threat from radical Islam, Swiss police launched a new specialist IT research department to intensify efforts to monitor jihadist websites and their operators.
In February, leading Islamic groups in Switzerland announced plans to establish their own parliament that will enable all of the country's Muslims to "speak with one voice," and that their new "parliament" will be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia law. Swiss analysts, according to an exposé published by the newspaper Basler Zeitung, say the initiative is an effort to establish a "parallel" legislative body in Switzerland that will be a mouthpiece for Islamic fundamentalists who are seeking to impose Sharia law in the country.
In January, the extremist Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS) announced that it was trying to raise money from countries in the Persian Gulf to build a 20-million Swiss franc ($21 million) mega-mosque in Bern. With three floors, the planned mosque would be the biggest in Switzerland. In addition to a prayer room for more than 500 worshippers, the building would have conference and training rooms, shops, underground parking and a garden.
In September 2011, an immigrant group based in Bern called for the emblematic white cross to be removed from the Swiss national flag because as a Christian symbol it "no longer corresponds to today's multicultural Switzerland." In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Aargauer Zeitung, a Muslim activist said the cross has a Christian background, and while the Christian roots of Switzerland should be respected, "it is necessary to separate church and state" because "Switzerland today has a great religious and cultural diversity. One has to ask if the State wants to continue building up a symbol in which many people no longer believe."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.
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