Muslims in mosque near Geneva
The Swiss government has announced that several Islamic radical groups are operating in Switzerland, including Hamas. Swiss Muslims had an opportunity to say, “We will gladly cooperate with government anti-terror initiatives, as we are just as anxious as non-Muslim Swiss to root terror out of our midst.” Instead they are complaining about the prospect of a “witch hunt.” From Swissinfo via NZZ Online, with thanks to Nicolei and Alex:
Muslim leaders have expressed fears of a “witch-hunt” against the 300,000-strong community in Switzerland.
Their alarm follows government revelations that members of half a dozen militant Islamic groups are operating secretly on Swiss soil.
The Federal Refugee Office on Tuesday confirmed a report in “Le Temps” newspaper that these groups include the Tunisian Islamic Front; Hamas, the Palestinian militant Islamic group; and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front.
Spokesman Dominique Boillat told swissinfo his department was working closely with the Federal Police Office to monitor the situation.
“We are responsible for asylum seekers and if we suspect that people could be dangerous to the safety of this country then we have to signal this and they will then be placed under surveillance by the police,” he said.
“Sometimes these people have contacts with terrorist groups or they could be contacted here in Switzerland by terrorist groups and later used for arms trafficking.”
News of a militant presence and police surveillance operations have prompted alarm among Switzerland’s Muslims that the community will now be hounded.
These fears were stoked in January this year when Swiss police arrested eight foreign nationals suspected of links to last May”s terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia.
Hafid Ouardiri, spokesman for Geneva’s Islamic Cultural Foundation, said he was “terrified” that people would mistakenly link Islam with extremism.
“This is beginning to become unbearable,” he said. “People are going to confuse a tiny minority with the great majority of Muslims.”
Similar concerns have been raised by British Muslims following a series of high-profile arrests related to alleged terrorism offences.
Nadia Karmous, the head of the cultural association of Muslim women in Switzerland, said she was astonished to hear that radical groups were active in the country.
“As far as we”re concerned, there is no rise in Islamism, but rather an increase in Islamophobia,” she said.
Boillat categorically denied that the authorities themselves were involved in any systematic targeting of Switzerland’s Muslims.
But he admitted that the government had become more sensitive to potential threats in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the United States.
“We would like to reassure the Muslim community that there is no witch-hunt by the authorities,” said Boillat.
“The impression the public is getting is that there is a real problem – which there isn’t. We are concerned about a very, very small number of people, and we have the means to control [them].”
Professor Reinhard Schulze, director of the Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Bern, said he believed the situation was being blown out of all proportion.
Schulze maintains that out of a Muslim population of around 300,000, there are only one or two extremists or “Jihadis” likely to be actively in contact with terrorist groups.
He says the majority of those being monitored by the Swiss authorities do not pose a threat.
“These people do not represent a danger to Switzerland, because Switzerland is not a target for these groups,” he explained. “They consider Switzerland a place of refuge and not a place to carry out operations.”
And he sympathised with Muslim leaders who fear a whole community is in danger of being demonised.
“It’s understandable. Even if there are one or two people in contact with terrorist organisations, they are not representative of the Muslim community as a whole. You cannot blame the whole community,” he said.
“My impression is that the officials are exaggerating the situation a bit and maybe contributing to the impression that there is a witch-hunt going on. I can understand why the Muslim community is worried about this.”
JÃ¼rg Schertenleib, spokesman for the non-governmental Swiss Refugee Council, takes a similar view. He says the authorities are right to take action where there is a clearly identifiable threat.
But he warned against giving the impression that Switzerland was a hotbed for Islamic fundamentalism.
“We shouldn’t forget that in many other countries the authorities are using the pretext that someone is a terrorist to justify repression,” he said.