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December 08 2009

Egypt: When did Saudi Arabia become Switzerland's role model?

On Sunday, November 29, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets atop mosques, paving the way for a constitutional amendment.  The referendum will affect the construction of new minarets (not mosques) and will not affect Switzerland's four existing minarets. Jillian York covered the initial reactions from the Arab and Muslim blogosphere. The ban is still creating ripples of tension among the supporters and opposition.

Mona ElTahawy has one question for Switzerland and other European countries enthralled by the right wing:

When did Saudi Arabia become your role model?

Even before 57.5 percent of Swiss voters cast ballots on Sunday to ban the building of minarets by Muslims, it was obvious that Switzerland’s image of itself as a land of tolerance was as full of holes as its cheese. When the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) came to power in 2007, it used a poster showing a white sheep kicking black sheep off the country’s flag. This was no reference to black sheep as rebels — the right wing doesn’t do cute — but to skin color and foreigners.

Posters the SVP displayed before Sunday’s referendum showed women covered from head to toe in black, standing in front of phallic-looking minarets. Such racism preceded and fed into the bigotry that fueled the referendum.

Still enraged by the notion of politicizing the minarets, ElTahawy says:

Minarets are used to issue the call to prayer, not to recruit people to Islamic political groups. If the SVP finds such prayer calls too noisy, I’d like to see it try to stifle church bells.

Mohaly wishes that:

the Swiss people would have proven to the world how unbiased and coherent they are, and instead of voting against building minarets, they could have simply voted for having the most prominent swiss product “Clocks” fixed over each new minaret -check the picture-. It can be a beautiful architecture holding a practical instrument that can be of benefit for everyone without positiong it as a “Muslim Missile”!

Nawara Negm pointed a finger at bigotry:

المنافقين في الدرك الاسفل من النار ما يجيش واحد يعمل عبيط على حرق تلات بيوت في سنة ونص على ناس بتصلي ولما يسمع عن منع المآذن في سويسرا يلطم ويصوت
Hypocrites will be condemned to the lowest depths of hell! Here is a man who turned a deaf ear to three houses that were burnt down because Christians were praying in them and now he is crying wolf over the Swiss banning minarets!

Nawara reminds those who are calling for tolerance now of their earlier intolerance:

انا عايزة اسمع رأي الناس اللي بتقول ان المسيحيين في مصر “مستفزين” وسهنات ومية من تحت تبن ونفسهم يرجعوا مصر مسيحية وبناء على كده فمنعهم من بناء كنائس وحرقهم ده “رد فعل” طبيعي لاستفزازاتهم المستمرة! …. انا عايزة اعرف رأي اللي بيبرر منع دور عباداتهم وحرق بيوتهم فعلا بقى في منع المآذن، مجرد المآذن، لا هدوا جامع ولا منعوا بناء جامع، بس منظر المئذنة مضايقهم، يا ترى إيه رأيهم دلوقت؟
I want to listen to those who find Egyptian Christians provocative, sly, and conniving. That they are conspiring to turn Egypt into a Christian country and that this is why it is only fair to burn their houses and stop them from building churches. I really want to hear what such people have to say about banning the minarets - I am just talking about the minarets! Not the mosques!

In her post, Mona ElTahawy also touches on this issue:

The Grand Mufti of Egypt, for example, denounced the ban as an “attack on freedom of belief.” I would take him more seriously if he denounced in similar terms the difficulty Egyptian Christians face in building churches in his country. They must obtain a security permit just for renovations.

Last year, the first Catholic church — bearing no cross, no bells and no steeple — opened in Qatar, leaving Saudi Arabia the only country in the Persian Gulf that bars the building of houses of worship for non-Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, it is difficult even for Muslims who don’t adhere to the ultra-orthodox Wahhabi sect; Shiites, for example, routinely face discrimination.

Bigotry must be condemned wherever it occurs.

Muslims against Sharia found Libya's President Gaddafi's statement funny; he said “Swiss minaret ban invites al-Qaeda attacks.”

Therein lies the assumption that all acts of jihadist terrorism must be a response to some kind of provocation (real or imagined) from non-Muslims: after all, the apologists keep telling us “defensive” jihad is quite alright, caliph or no caliph.

The Fraggle-haired dictator also quips “I don't think anyone in the Muslim world will from now on authorise the construction of a church.”

This is ironic, of course, since 1.) it's not like the Muslim world has welcomed churches or freedom of worship with open arms up to now, and 2.) restrictions on building non-Muslim houses of worship are enshrined in the Pact of Umar, which has provided a far-reaching precedent for oppressing non-Muslims in a variety of ways. For that matter, the minaret ban does not restrict worship or the construction of mosques.

While Shokeir is monitoring signs of Western Countries getting fed up with the symbols of Islam

الغرب بدأ يضيق بالإسلام ومايرمز له ، فتلك دولة ترفض النقاب وأخرى ترفض الحجاب في هيئات بعينها ، وتلك تدافع عن صور مسيئة ، وتلك ترحب بأفلام تسيئ للقرآن ، وأخيرا أخرى تضيق برؤية المآذن بعدما منعت من قبل رفع صوت الآذان
The west is getting fed up with Islam and whatever symbols it has; here is a country that bans Niqab and there is another that prohibits Hijab. This one defends offensive pictures and that one welcomes movies that abuses the Qura'an. And now this: after silencing the calls for prayer, they banned minarets altogether.

Hassan El Helali, on the other hand, is relieved and he highlighted one of the comments on his post:

مبروك لسويسرا، و”هارد لك” للجماعات، إياها، التي تتعيش وتتكسب من تجارة الدين من المنظومة البدوية، وتتباكى على الحريات المسفوحة في ربوع أوروبا، وكأن البلاد التي فروا منها “تشرشر” الحريات منها “شرشرة”، وعلى “أبو موزة”. وإذا كانت أوروبا مستبدة ولا تحترم الأديان فلم لا يطلبوا اللجوء السياسي والإنساني في إمارة المحاكم الإسلامية في الصومال، وهناك سيتعرفون جيداً على معنى الحرية على أكمل وجه.
Congratulations Switzerland! Hard Luck to “those” groups that live and thrive on commercializing religion stemming out of their tribal organization. Those groups crying over the violated freedoms of Muslims living in Europe as though their countries of birth - the countries they escaped - are soaked in tolerance. Fine! If Europe is guilty of bigotry, why didn't they ask for political asylum or immigrant rights in an Islamic colony in Somalia? - for this is where they would have learnt the true meaning of freedom.

December 04 2009

Slovakia: Controversial Politician Opposes Construction of a Casino

Maybe you already know it: TriGranit, one of the largest property developers in Europe, in cooperation with Harrah's Entertainment, the largest gaming company in the world, will build a large leisure and shopping complex with a large casino in Slovakia, just near the border with Hungary and Austria.

Here's a line from an article (SLO) in “Something of this size and scope does not exist in Europe yet.”

The initial investment will be 1.5 billion Euro and will create about 9,000 jobs. Later, it should be extended to 5 billion Euro and employ 30,000 people.

The project has the government's support; namely, the finance minister Ján Počiatek has been mentioned in the media often in connection with it.

But not everyone likes the idea of casinos.

One of the opponents is professor Dr. Jozef M. Rydlo (SLO), a historian with non-mainstream opinions, a holder of one of the highest Italian honors. During the communist era, he lived in West European exile, now he's a parliament member for the Slovak National Party (SNS, a minor member of the government coalition).

Someone who knows how Rydlo voted in the case of Kosovo - as he declared (SLO) himself, against his own opinion - should be a bit surprised that he openly criticizes a government-supported project (which, in his view, is united with crime), and minister Počiatek (labeled as a ‘madman'), a member of the main coalition party.

But now he took it really seriously (SLO):

Let's organize petitions, let's send opposing opinions to those who are deciding about us without us, let's think about who we will vote for, let's contact leaders to whom moral and high-principled life is still not foreign. There is still enough time, but it all depends on everyone among us, how actively we will fight for projects promoting positive human values.

Rydlo's article was originally published on a less-known server and might have been forgotten soon. But newspaper published its own article (SLO) and comment (SLO), in which it described Rydlo's work as in large part a copy of a blog post written by Andrea Kaľavská a few days earlier. Kaľavská is an assistant of an opposition parliament member for the Christian Democratic Movement.

In the copied parts, Rydlo is said to have made some cosmetic changes, such as removing notes about the prime minister. He kept the part about the city where he lives (and near which the casino will be built), even though in his profile he declares a different address. The closing part of Rydlo's piece, quoted above, is not part of Kaľavská's blog post.

The server where Rydlo is publishing is often labeled to be at the border of extremism, and this is not first time Rydlo has been featured negatively in the press. He became known already because of the (unusual) kissing (SLO) of the Slovak Constitution during his parliamentary campaign in 2006. Later, in 2007, the Swiss Berner Zeitung published an article in which it was claimed that his professor title was fake and that he had gotten it from an organization that he himself founded and was the only member of. Also, his former colleague said anonymously that his acting on various universities should be better described as changing of schools after short time. Other allegations (SLO) against Rydlo include book thefts, domestic violence, an attempted murder - and psychiatric disability payments that Rydlo was allegedly receiving in Switzerland (and which were higher than the Slovak average monthly wage), while being on the Slovak parliament's payroll.

Here's a selection of anonymous netizens' reactions to Rydlo's response to the construction project, posted (SLO) at portal:

Prof. Rydlo:

Don't be bad to mister professor. Except that to the nation of Slovaks he is already nothing else.


nemudruj a uvažuj [do not speculate and think]:

I also wonder why they are still attacking Rydlo, instead of just being happy that any parliamentarian from SNS is able to even copy the whole page of text.


Martin ‘Euthymos' Kubo:

He was able to modify some sentences. That is proof of originality, extraordinary in his environment.


ideozločinec [ideocriminal]:

Do you think that fool would be awarded with the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic?





Those payments for the disabled because of schizo really belong to him.



It is a tragedy that Rydlo, despite everything, represents the intellectual top in SNS, and an even bigger tragedy that Smer (the main coalition party) has joined forces with something like this. The government of national shame.



And I thought Rydlo was already written off because of his [fake] titles, and he is still writing copies… He would write off himself alone!



2-3 years ago, [he] was teaching history of Switzerland at the Philosophy Department. Already at that time he was somehow strange, in every second sentence he was using bad language on Hungarians and Americans […] - about the history of Switzerland we did not learn very much.

December 01 2009

Arab World: Reactions to the Swiss Ban on Minarets

On Sunday, November 29, 57.5% of Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets atop mosques, paving the way for a constitutional amendment.  The referendum will affect the building of new minarets–not mosques–and will not effect Switzerland's four existing minarets.

The ban has sparked mixed reactions throughout the Arab and Muslim blogospheres: While some bloggers are outraged, others make the point that banning minarets does not hinder practicing the faith.

Lebanese-American Pierre Tristram, who blogs for, opens a post with this paragraph, condemning the Swiss decision:

How can 59 million people be so dumb, Britain's Daily Mail famously asked in a day-after headline of the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. The Daily Mail can notch a new one for its shame gallery: How can 3 million Swiss be so bigoted?

Tristram closes with this scathing comment:  “The difference between your average Swiss and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the poster child of racist rants, has just gotten much narrower.”

Egyptian blogger Hicham Maged searches for an answer in his post, and concludes:

In a nutshell, I am looking forward for Swiss people to re-evaluate what happened; it is not only whether law protect citizen's rights or not, which is something important to debate and go for in the Swiss courts to correct for sure, but what is more important for me is that this fatal mistake should set up an alarm for not falling into the swamp of ignorance where nothing fill it but fear, anger and stupidity ~ Everywhere!

Another Egyptian blogger, whose blog is entitled Not Green Data, recognizes the credo that “a mosque is a mosque,” but laments the loss of the mosque's beauty in the Swiss ban:

Can you imagine a cube of Swiss Cheese, without its eyes - the holes in it? Or a Swiss Knife without the compass or the screwdriver? This is exactly what the Swiss people want to do with mosques. A mosque will remain a mosques without its Minarets, and it will still function the way it is supposed to function without them. But it will then loose its architectural identity and beauty.

British blogger Matthew Teller, a Middle East travel writer, focuses on the propaganda posters of various Swiss

A poster by the Swiss SVP calling for a ban of minarets

A poster by the Swiss SVP calling for a ban of minarets

campaigners, picking apart both sides of the battle in this post, describing the poster to the left:

The repulsive SVP, who’ve used what the Financial Times called “strident populism” to target ‘foreigners’ of all kinds in Switzerland as criminals, benefit cheats or worse, kicked off the campaign with the poster opposite: “Stop! Yes to the minaret ban”. Look at the imagery: minarets as missiles, women as menacing, the burqa as concealment, black as a threat, the Swiss flag cast into shadow from the east, the cross obliterated.

Algerian-American The Moor Next Door, seeing the ban as a power struggle, remarks:

The minaret, for its opponents, symbolizes Islam’s “arrival” in the Alps. It stands to proclaim the Muslim presence above other faiths and peoples. Banning it, then, is to ban a symbol of Muslim power and existence

The aesthetics of identity, and therefore power, are what the drive is really about. It is a way for a people in doubt to affirm and define their confused identity by rejecting that of the newcomer’s.

Syrian blogger Maysaloon has a unique perspective on what the most important narrative of this story is.  Setting aside the issues of bigotry, fear, and architectural integrity, the blogger makes the following point:

Neither Swiss bigotry, nor the religious or architectural significance of minarets are what is important about this story. What is important is that for the first time in 400 years, at least since the Ottomans besieged Vienna, Muslims are having a real impact on what is happening in Europe.

The blogger goes on to highlight the ways in which Islam has influenced the “west” and vice versa, concluding:

To sum it up, I am not worried about the bigots. Minarets and sharia can be banned, headscarves can be torn off, and all the cartoons in the world will not stop the fact that Islam is now in Europe, and it is in America, and it is spreading throughout the world.

To conclude, Mauritanian Twitter user weddady's comment on the end result of the referendum sums up well the sentiment of many.  He says, “Now no one can pretend that Europe doesn't have a problem with Muslims, nor can anyone deny the extensive Islamist presence there.”

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