Minaret of Geneva mosque in the neighbourhood of Le Petit-Saconnex Geneva. © Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
Switzerland has just rejected a proposed law preventing mosques from accepting money from abroad, and compelling them to declare where their financial backing comes from and for what purpose the money will be used. According to the proposal, imams also would have been obliged to preach in one of the Swiss national languages.
While the proposal narrowly passed in the lower house of parliament already in September 2017, the upper house recently rejected it. The proposal was modeled on regulations in Austria, where already in 2015, a law banning foreign funding of religious groups was passed. The Austrian law aims to counter extremism by requiring imams to speak German, prohibiting foreign funding for mosques, imams and Muslim organizations in Austria, and stressing the precedence of Austrian law over Islamic sharia law for Muslims living in the country.
The Federal Council, which constitutes the federal government of Switzerland, was also against the proposal, and claimed that it constituted 'discrimination': "We must not discriminate against Muslim communities and imams and put them under general suspicion," Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said. The Federal Council noted that in Austria, Islam is officially recognized, whereas it is not in Switzerland. According to the Swiss government, therefore, the model applied in Austria does not apply to Switzerland, as "One cannot demand obligations without rights". Instead, the Federal Council evidently believes that the risks posed by extremist Islamist preachers and communities can be combated within existing law.
There are approximately 250 mosques in Switzerland, but the authorities do not know who finances them. The authorities have no jurisdiction to collect data on the financing of Muslim associations and mosques apart from exceptional cases in which internal security is threatened. By rejecting the proposal compelling mosques to disclose who finances them, the Swiss authorities can now remain willfully blind.
Several experts have pointed out the foreign Muslim networks at work in Switzerland. In 2016, Reinhard Schulze, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Bern, pointed out that donations from the Muslim World League, based in Saudi Arabia, and other funds from Saudi Arabia were flowing to "those mosques and organizations that are open to the Wahhabi tradition". Another expert on Islam in Switzerland, Saïda Keller-Messahli, has spoken andwritten widely on how "Huge sums of money from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey are flowing to Switzerland", and how the Saudi-based Muslim World League is behind "a whole network of radically-oriented mosques in Switzerland... with the clear intention of spreading Salafist thought here".
In addition to the Salafist influence, there are an estimated 35 Turkish mosques, financed by Turkey's official Religious Affairs Directorate, known as Diyanet. (Previous reports have mentioned 70 Turkish mosques in Switzerland).
According to a report published by Diyanet in 2017, Islam is "superior" to Christianity and Judaism and "Interfaith dialogue is unacceptable". Turkey supports the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist off-shoot Hamas.
In fact, the building of another Turkish mosque was just given the go-ahead in the Swiss town Schaffhausen. The people behind it reportedly claim that the 1.5 million Swiss francs (approx. $1.5 million) will be collected locally, and not from Turkey, but the imams for the mosque will nevertheless be sent from Turkey.
None of these facts, however, appears to bother the Swiss government, which seems to want to continue the flow of foreign funding of mosques and Islamic centers into the country.
Above all, the Swiss government seems not to have considered the rights of Swiss non-Muslim citizens, who are the ones left to live with the consequences of the government's ill-thought-out policies.
One such consequence was recently on display in Swiss courts, as three board members of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ISSC) were on trial for charges of having produced illegal propaganda for al-Qaeda and related organizations. One of them, Naim Cherni, was given a suspended prison sentence of 20 months for publishing an interview he conducted with Saudi cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini in Syria in 2015, in which al-Muhaysini called on young Muslims in Europe to join the jihad. The two other board members, chairman Nicolas Blancho and Qaasim Illi, were acquitted.
In contrast to Switzerland, Austria recently announced plans to shut down seven mosques and expelling up to 60 imams belonging to the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), a Muslim group close to the Turkish government, on the grounds of receiving foreign funding.
The response from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman was that the policy was part of an "Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave" in Austria.
The strong message that the Swiss government is sending to those Muslim states and organizations that are fueling radicalization in Switzerland by funding Salafist, Turkish and other radical mosques, is that they are welcome to continue doing so; the Swiss government has no intention of stopping them, let alone asking any unpleasant questions. It might as well put up a sign, saying, "Radicalization Welcome".
Judith Bergman is a columnist, lawyer and political analyst.