If you listen to some of Switzerland's pollsters and government officials, the country is suffering from a serious and ever-intensifying crisis -- anti-Muslim bigotry.
In August, a study concluded that Swiss Muslims "are generally well integrated into Swiss society." Their main problem? They face "Islamophobia."
Another study the same month found that the percentage of Swiss non-Muslims who feel "threatened" by Islam had more than doubled since 2004, from 16% to 38%.
At a September 11 conference, Switzerland's Federal Commission against Racism (FCR) issued an explicit alert: "hostility toward Muslims," it warned, was rising – and was "fed by facts that have nothing to do with Muslims themselves."
Conference organizers blamed this "hostility" on online "propaganda"; Interior Minister Alain Berset accused Swiss citizens of erroneously holding "Islam responsible for all the extremist acts committed in its name."
What you would never know, from all this hand-wringing about "Islamophobia," is that only a few weeks before the conference, the country's media had reported on a popular imam in Biel who, in his sermons, "asked Allah to destroy the enemies of Islam -- Jews, Christians, Hindus, Russians, and Shiites." The imam in question, Abu Ramadan, preached that Muslims who befriended infidels were "cursed until the Day of Judgment" -- which, of course, is not radical at all, but is straight out of the Koran.
Abu Ramadan has been living in Switzerland for almost two decades. In 1998, he came to the Alpine country from Libya as an asylum seeker, but over the years has returned home several times -- in addition to visiting Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. This fact should have automatically negated his right to asylum and resulted in his expulsion. But the years went by, and the government, ignoring the evidence right there on his passport, did nothing.
On the contrary: over the years, in fact, the Swiss state had given Ramadan the equivalent of $620,000 in welfare payments.
Reportedly, some public officials were well aware of his hate sermons -- but until the content of those sermons surfaced in the media, nobody in the government had made any effort to do anything about him. Instead, people such as Interior Minister Berset and the members of the FCR had kept busy going to conferences and tarring the general public as "Islamophobes".
At least one high-profile individual in Switzerland has long rejected the official line about successful Muslim integration and unfounded infidel Islam-hatred: Saïda Keller-Messahli. Of Tunisian descent, living in Zurich, she has spent years investigating institutional Islam in Switzerland and urging politicians to take action against it. Asked in a recent interview whether Abu Ramadan is an isolated case, Keller-Messahli said no: such preaching, she explained, is common in Swiss mosques, part of an international strategy to plant a "discriminatory" and "violent" Islam in Switzerland and elsewhere in the West.
Keller-Messahli has just published a book entitled, Switzerland: An Islamist Hub ("Islamistische Drehscheibe Schweiz"). It is sort of a field guide to Islam in Switzerland. The country's mosques belong to various networks based here and there in the Muslim world; many of the imams have been trained in Egypt or Saudi Arabia; many of the mosques receive funding -- and take orders -- from organizations in Turkey. In her book, Keller-Messahli draws all the connections, follows all the money trails, and spells out the poisonous articles of faith. And she prescribes strong medicine: monitor the mosques, cut off the foreign cash, and expel the preachers of jihad.
Saïda Keller-Messahli, the Swiss Muslim author of Switzerland: An Islamist Hub, has spent years investigating institutional Islam in Switzerland and urging politicians to take action against it. (Switzerland photo by Monk/Wikimedia Commons)
Keller-Messahli has not only probed the mosques. She has also visited prisons. In some of the prison libraries, she reports, she had found not a copy or two but hundreds of copies of pro-jihadist works. When she told a reporter that imams who work as prison chaplains are past masters at turning Muslim inmates into jihadists, and argued that the position of Muslim chaplain should therefore be eliminated, her interviewer asked whether that wouldn't amount to "unequal treatment." Keller-Messahli pointed out that the concept of prison chaplain does not even exist in Islam but "was invented precisely for the sake of equality."
Mosque kindergartens and youth groups, too, are "places of religious indoctrination" for Swiss Muslims. So are the German-speaking public schools, in which imams are permitted to teach classes in Islam using instructional materials from Saudi Arabia or Turkey: "All they do," complains Keller-Messahli, "is give them suras to learn by heart, the veil for the girls and the segregation of the sexes as soon as possible. And all the 'students' do is learn words without understanding them." The result: "social segregation, exclusion, contempt for women, honor crimes."
The crisis is real. But, says Keller-Messahli, Swiss politicians, "especially on the left," refuse to address it. Instead of trying to defend their country from radicalism, they think their job is to "protect minorities and multiculturalism." Keller-Messahli actually took part in the design and implementation of a course that warned prison employees about the dangers of Islamic radicalization. It was, she said, "a huge success" -- but an order by a Zurich court put an end to it. "Right and center," she laments, "politicians prefer to stay in their comfort zone and close their eyes."
Keller-Messahli does not mince words. The relentless spread of jihadist Islam in Switzerland, and the see-no-evil response by Swiss authorities, give her "a tremendous sense of betrayal. We trusted these people, we opened the doors of our country and our institutions. They say they want to be our partners in dialogue. But none of it is true." She reports that some Swiss residents with Muslim backgrounds have thanked her for speaking up and have told her that organized Islam does not speak for them. She is grateful for their support, she says, but she "would prefer it if they did not keep so silent."
The picture Keller-Messahli paints is a grim one. Is there any hope for change? Well, during the last few days it has become clear that at least some Swiss officials do not wish to remain silent about the enemy within. On September 21, it was reported that federal prosecutors had brought charges against the president and two members of the board of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS), the country's largest Islamic organization. The charge: making videos in Syria featuring a top Al-Qaeda member and posting them on YouTube and other sites.
Only days later, the lower house of the Swiss parliament voted by a narrow margin to prohibit mosques from taking foreign money and to require that imams preach in the local language. The upper house has yet to debate the bill; the Federal Council, which constitutes the government's executive branch, opposes the measure on the grounds that it places Muslims "under general suspicion" and "fuels the argument of extremists."
It will be interesting to see where these developments lead. Will the bill pass the upper house? Are federal prosecutors looking into non-ICCS mosques? Stay tuned.
Bruce Bawer is the author of the new novel The Alhambra (Swamp Fox Editions). His book While Europe Slept (2006) was a New York Times bestseller and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist.