Swiss Muslims seek united voice

25th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Swiss Muslim groups have taken a first step towards a greater and more united voice in the wake of a shock anti-minaret vote in Switzerland last year, officials said on Monday.

About 20 groups representing the country's disparate Muslim population met over the weekend to discuss forming an umbrella group under the auspices of the official anti-racism watchdog and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation and Europe (OSCE).

"The meeting was a premiere," Doris Angst, executive director of the Federal Commission Against Racism told AFP, although no decisions were taken.

"In an extremely small country we have an extremely large variety of ethnic origins -- then languages and cultural backgrounds," she explained.

"There is also a certain amount of competition among some institutions that regionally are already umbrella organisations for Muslims."

Some 400,000 of Switzerland's 7.6 million inhabitants are Muslims, mainly originating from the Balkans, Turkey, north, east and west Africa, as well as from the Middle East.

"There was also the issue of how secular Muslims ... are represented," said Jens Eschenbaecher, a spokesman for the OSCE's human rights office.

Last November, a majority of Swiss voters unexpectedly approved a right-wing referendum motion imposing a constitutional ban on new minarets, prompting an international outcry over intolerance, prejudice and fear.

The outcome dismayed Swiss Muslims, who felt it was a barometer of growing discrimination.

"Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community," said Farhad Afshar of the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.

Muslim umbrella organisations from Britain, Belgium and Germany were invited to give examples at the meeting on Saturday in Bern.

Angst also highlighted the differences, including the British council's political weight and the narrower ethnic background present in Germany.

"Islam being an officially recognized religion in Belgium, the community got large financial support from the government which we could only dream of in Switzerland," she said.

© 2010 AFP

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