Burqa Committees and Minaret Referenda

One does not really know how to respond to news stories which seem to evoke the Middle Ages in the west, when the inquisition against Muslims reigned: books were burned, mosques demolished, Muslims Christianized, innovators burned or drowned for suspicion of being witches.  One hears about setting up committees, hearings and discussions about wearing the burqa or the veil and about sacrificial slaughtering of sheep in Europe which was once the continent of freedoms.  We hear about the Swiss referendum which ended up with 57 per cent of those claiming to advocate freedom of worship supporting a ban on building minarets.  There are also news of a growing number of those who oppose building mosques and minarets in France.

An opinion poll in France showed that the number of those who oppose building not only minarets, but mosques altogether is on the rise compared to eight years ago: 22 per cent in 2001 compared to 41 in the last poll.  The number of those who do not oppose building mosques dropped to 19 per cent which is the lowest in a quarter century.

Future policies in the west and their repercussions aside, the decision to ban minarets in Switzerland – although churches there have towers similar to Moroccan minarets – under the guise of popular democracy, is a violation of the human right of the freedom to worship, the simplest and oldest right ever practiced by humans all over the world.  For Muslims in the Middle East, who lived for thousands of years among mosques and churches next to each other, and the Sunday masses and church bells mixing with the Muslim call for prayer and the Friday prayers, the Swiss decision seems a form of racism against Islam and Muslims.  We had assumed that all of this was part of the darkness of the European past of ignorance, backwardness and racial fanaticism, things supposed to have been dissipated by the light of democracy and the human rights charter long advocated by the west which claims to put pressure on “less civilized countries” to respect.

The strange thing is that the countries which give themselves the right to issue lists naming countries practicing religious discrimination against followers of other religions have not taken the trouble to add Switzerland to the list of countries which discriminate on religious grounds against Muslims in Switzerland.  Neither did they criticize the debate going on against Muslims in France and Europe in general, which in itself is a form of racial discrimination against Muslims who are citizens of these countries and should enjoy citizenship rights, including the freedom of worship and freedom of religious affiliation.

Those waging this campaign against Islam and Muslims should remember that Islam, which has been spreading for the past fourteen centuries throughout the world, touched human souls by persuasion and conviction not force, and preserved different civilizations, religions and rituals in the countries which embraced it.  Hence we see the different rituals and apparel in Asia, Africa, Europe, America, China and India.  And that is why followers of other religions – Jews, Christians, Sabeans and others – still constitute part of the social and national fabric in Muslim countries, whereas eight million Muslims in Andalusia were either killed, Christianized or expelled.

It should be noted that God, in the Quran, addresses people and believers not Muslims alone, because the golden rule in Islam is that “those closest to God are the most righteous”.  Islam came to complement other prophets and messengers who came before it; and one cannot be a Muslim unless s/he believed in all the other prophets and messengers and revere them in the same way s/he reveres Prophet Mohammad.

The difference between the true Muslim approach and the western approach is that Islam is based on co-existence and acculturation, while the dominant western civilization was based on the elimination of native people, settling in their land and expropriating their wealth after characterizing them as backward, primitive and ignorant to justify exterminating them.

Those coming from the Arab world, where churches and mosques embrace, where people worship God in their different ways, and where the main tenet is “Those among you closer to God are those who are good to each other”, are stunned by the fears expressed by the Swiss on minarets and mosques, women’s apparel and veils in schools.  The Swiss, whom wealthy Muslims have entrusted with billions of dollars cannot bear to see a minaret!

This incapacity of the western mind to accept Muslims as equal citizens in rights and duties explains, more than anything else, western silence towards Israeli practices against Palestinians which are a shame to humanity.

Why does not the Organization of Islamic Conference issue a blacklist of the countries which deprive Muslims of religious freedom, their extremist parties, politicians, journalists and take measures against them?  Why should labelling and definition remain an exclusive right of those who show clear racism and fanaticism towards Muslims?  Why does not the OIC demand that the United States – which issues lists of terrorist organizations and countries which practice religious discrimination – add Israel to the terrorist list since it practices the ugliest forms of terrorism against unarmed civilians and Switzerland to the list of countries practicing religious discrimination?

Those who express reservations towards Islam because of women’s conditions, need only look at the condition of Iraqi women before and after American occupation.   Here, I refer to Zayd al-Zubaidi’s report in al-Akhbar, December 4, 2009, titled “Women in Occupied Iraq: Widowed, Raped or Murdered”.  Many people recall that one of Bush’s justifications of the war on Iraq and occupying it was “liberating Iraqi women”.  The only liberty they got was to be raped by occupation soldiers, to care for orphans without any income, to suffer the loss of their husbands, brothers and children and the humiliation of occupation soldiers.

The rise in right-wing violence against minarets, mosques and Muslim women, and the spread of Islamophobia, hatred and violence against Muslims in the west, is linked to the appearance of brave voices in the United States and Europe calling for boycotting Israel and punishing its war criminals.

Ukrainian academics have said that Israel has stolen Ukrainian children in order to slice out their organs, which confirms what Swedish journalist Donald Bostrum and others have reported about Israel killing Palestinian children in order to steal their organs.  British Jews are asking prime minister Brown to adopt the Goldstone report.  Organizers in San Francisco have initiated a campaign to boycott Israel by publishing a list of ten companies which should be boycotted.  The Australian city of Sidney has had demonstrations against a visit by Israeli deputy prime minister Sylvan Shalom to the city.

Research shows that Islam is spreading quickly despite – or maybe because – of oppressive measures against Muslims.  In Britain, the name of Mohammad came second in popularity, after John; and Denmark, which published the defamatory cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, is witnessing a remarkable rise in the number of those who are embracing Islam.  If the first prison guard in Guantanamo converted to Islam, although his task was to insure that Muslims are adequately tortured, no one will be able to eliminate minarets, mosques or veils.  Neither will they be able to smother “God’s light with their mouths”.  But it is the duty of all Muslims to take the position which honors their religion and the dignity of its followers, whether they are in Switzerland, France, Denmark or occupied Palestine.

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com

Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria and was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. She can be reached through nizar_kabibo@yahoo.com