Across Europe, racists have cheered the result of last Sunday’s referendum in Switzerland, which saw a vote to impose a ban on the building of minarets on mosques.
“Switzerland forever white and Christian,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for the anti-immigrant Northern League in Italy, as he hailed the result.
The League is now calling for the cross to be added to the Italian flag, to affirm the country’s “Christian identity”.
And in Holland, anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders is demanding a similar ban. “What is possible in Switzerland should also be possible here,” he says.
The result shows the growing climate of Islamophobia in Europe that is feeding fascists and other bigots.
This not just about words—it is leading to attacks on Muslims. Before the referendum the main mosque in Geneva was vandalised, and cobblestones were thrown at it, damaging a mosaic.
Farhad Afshar of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland warned that, “Muslims will not feel safe any more.”
The referendum over minarets was initiated by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which forced a vote after collecting 100,000 signatures from eligible citizens.
The SVP is the largest party in parliament and part of the ruling Swiss coalition government. It gained its biggest vote in the 2007 federal election where it ran an anti-immigrant campaign, saying “criminal foreigners” needed to be kicked out of the country.
It used the referendum as a way to further this racist agenda.
The SVP was allowed to turn the referendum into a vote on the very presence of Muslims within the country. It focused on claims that Switzerland would be put under Sharia law.
SVP posters urging a vote in support of the ban showed a menacing-looking woman in a black burqa posing next to missile-like minarets standing on top of the Swiss flag—a Switzerland which had been “taken over” by Islam.
The anti-Muslim arguments found support beyond the far right. Prominent Swiss feminist Julia Onken backed the ban, claiming that failure to ban minarets would be “a signal of the state’s acceptance of the oppression of women”.
She sent out 4,000 emails attacking Muslims who “condone forced marriage, honour killings and beating women”.
Many of those Muslims facing discrimination in Switzerland fled former Yugoslavia in search of a haven.
Now they are again targets.
Switzerland has traditionally relied on migrant labour, but also has a long history of racism.
After the Second World War, Italian “guest workers” were subject to racist discrimination, including being banned from public parks.
The police were handed control over immigration policy, with a duty to prevent the “over-foreignisation” of the country.
The SVP has now collected enough signatures for another referendum, which will allow foreigners convicted of a crime or falsely claiming welfare to be expelled from the country. It has also said it will move to ban the burqa.
The referendum result will boost racist and fascist parties across Europe, with their claims that Islam wants to take over Europe.
Yet Islam is an integral part of European civilisation. In the Middle Ages both Muslim Andalucía in Spain and Sicily in Italy were centres of learning and scholarship.
Today, the Islamophobia which accompanied the US-led assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan has become intertwined with the anti-migrant racism that has grown with the economic crisis, creating a poisonous brew.
Last Sunday’s vote means it is essential to build the movements here to oppose the fascist British National Party—which lauds the SPV as a “patriotic” sister party—and against the politicians’ and media’s campaigns against migrants.