By Shraga Elam
Shraga Elam (October 28 1947in Haifa) is an Israeli journalist and peace activist. He has lived since 1979 in Zurich, is married and has two children. His father, Julius Sündermann had to flee from Germany.
Elam has specialized on the Israel-Palestine conflict and financial affairs as well as historical research on Nazi-Zionist relations, the role of the Jewish Agency during the Holocaust and the role of Switzerland during the Second World War.
Editor, www.NewAgeIslam.com Sultan Shahin participated in a discussion on Islamophobia in Geneva where Mr. Elam made this presentation and debated with Mr Hani Ramadan, among other intellectuals and experts on Islam.
Lecture in Geneva/Switzerland on 19 March 2010
The huge wave of Islamophobia rolling over Switzerland should be compared to other forms of racism prevailing in this country especially with Judeophobia, with its long history. It would be wrong to speak in this context about an equation, although there are crucial similarities and common roots and traits.
Xenophobia in Switzerland was and still is an essential part of the dominating rural sub-cultures according to which even the inhabitants of the next village were and sometimes still are considered to be foreigners. Not to speak about recent strong animosities between the various language regions and between Protestants and Catholics. On the other hand, there were and are strong cosmopolitan tendencies even in the countryside. Accordingly, many students in Zurich at the beginning of the last century were Jewish Russian women, and radical leftist Russian politicians like Vladimir Lenin and Mikhail Bakunin found refuge in the Helvetic Confederation. And my catholic spouse comes from a village and not only she but all her 7 siblings married foreigners.
Jews as citizens were anything but welcomed in the Alps confederation. In its editorial from 12.3.2010 the Jewish weekly Tachles reminds that the Swiss authorities did not want to naturalize or even to allow poor Jews from Eastern Europe to stay. After the Nazi racial laws were ratified in Nuremberg in 1937 hardly any Jew was allowed to be naturalized here. Tachles writes accordingly that this dark chapter in the Swiss history should sharpen the Jewish understanding for fellow sufferers. (Gisela Blau, The Red Pass and its Dark Past, Tachles 12 March 2010).
The president of the anti-racism commission, Prof. Georg Kreis, a non-Jew, went in the same direction after declaring in a TV debate on 8.12.2009 that the Swiss People's Party (SVP or UDC) that had pushed the anti-minaret vote and actually supported an anti-Islamization initiative would have supported an anti-Judaization (Anti-Judaisierung) initiative in the 1930's. This statement ignited a fierce debate and Swiss conservatives requested Kreis' resignation for this comparison. This historian was wrong only in one point. There was no need for such an anti-Jewish initiative in the '30s for the simple reason that once "threatened" with a wave of Jewish refugees as of 1938 the Swiss government decided to close its borders for Jews precisely in order to prevent the alleged danger of "judaization". And there was no initiative to cancel that anti-human decision.
It is important to note that on the one hand some leaders of the Jewish community also supported the governmental decision, mainly because they had internalized the prevailing anti-Jewish sentiments, especially against Eastern European Jews (Ostjuden). On the other hand many Swiss Christians opposed the border closure. Some of them, like the courageous president of the socialist party, Werner Stocker, were humanists and anti-racists and even acted illegally against the official inhumanity. But some of them, like the journalist, Johann Baptist Rusch, were Judeophobes. For them the Nazi anti-Jewish measures went far too far and they pleaded therefore for a liberal asylum policy towards the threatened Jews. Among them were those who argued either that the rescued Jews would convert to Christianity (the so called "refugees mother" Gertrud Kurz) or that they would proceed to other countries with the next possible opportunity.
Just like today with the anti minaret initiative, it is impossible to say that all those who opposed the anti-Jewish asylum policy were not racists. Similarly many present-day Swiss who are against the minaret ban maintain that position because they believe that the measure is an ineffective way to deal with the alleged Islamic "threat".
It is also important to note in this connection that some of those who support the ban do not consider themselves to be racist but just anti-clerical or atheists.
Judeophobia was mainly religiously-motivated as part of a primitive and racist understanding of Christianity and like today with Islamophobia was often maintained by persons who never met a Jew in their life or had just one bad experience with a single Jew and then generalized.
Insofar as Islamophobia and Judeophobia express prejudices against "strangers" on cultural and religious bases there are strong similarities between the two and therefore parts of the Swiss Jewish community demonstrates its solidarity in the struggle against the Islamophobia.
But there is a very different and even opposing political background for the two forms of racism which sometimes renders Islamo-Jewish cooperation difficult if not impossible.
The trigger if not the main reason for the present Islamophobia and Arabophobia is a political campaign launched in the mid-1980's as a coproduction of the US and Israeli military industrial complexes (MIC) which needed a new enemy as it was becoming clear that the "cold war" was going to end and the Communist enemy would soon disappear.
One cannot overlook the large presence of Jews among the so called neo-conservatives in the US, playing the spearhead of the Islamophobia campaign on behalf of the MIC. And they have their representatives in Europe like the philosophers Andre Glucksmann or Bernard Henri-Lévy in France and the journalist Henryk M. Broder in the German speaking countries.
These Jews, like many Zionists, are not looking for conciliation with the Arab and Muslim world but for an ever escalating conflict. They believe they have found the necessary justification for their belligerent attitude in the militant Muslim factions as a kind of a self fulfilling prophecy.
Another hurdle for Muslim-Jewish cooperation is the Islamo-Judeophobia, the counterpart of the Judeo-Islamophobia. Many Arabs and Muslims find it difficult to distinguish between Jews and militant Zionists. So one can hear often on demonstrations against Israeli war crimes slogans like "Khaibar, Khaibar ya Yahud", meaning figuratively "death to the Jews".
It is obvious that the Middle East conflict burdens the Jewish-Muslim relationship in Switzerland too, and the necessary common struggle here against racism and for freedom of religion must include the Middle East as well.
During the ensuing public and private discussions the following issue was discussed:
A person from the audience asked about the connection between the economic crisis and the rise of Islamophobia.
My answer: economic crises usually cause racism to increase. But this is hardly the case in Switzerland. Quite on the contrary, Islamophobia is likely to aggravate the economic crisis in this country, as it is highly dependent on foreign money being deposited here and also upon exporting goods and services to Muslim countries. This was also proven in the Us after Islamophobic policies were intensified following 9/11. The US MIC has made ever since a huge profit, but Muslim assets worth hundreds of billions USD were withdrawn and that is one of the main reasons for the deep crisis in the US.
Actually this enormous amount of money could have been used to apply pressure on the US to change its policy. For sure rich Muslim clients can successfully compel the Swiss government to do something concrete against the growing Islamophobia in this country and help it to strengthen the liberal and cosmopolitan tradition.