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Calls to Curb Muslim Immigration Rise in Switzerland

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

ZURICH—Calls to curb immigration from Muslim countries to Switzerland have risen since last week’s terror spree in Paris, the latest evidence that anti-Islam sentiment is rising in one of Europe’s most tolerant countries.

Walter Wobmann, a lawmaker with the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, called for a ban on Muslim asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria, saying their presence increases the risk of a terror attack in the Alpine country. Muslim asylum seekers don’t integrate with broader Swiss society, he said, raising a host of social problems.

“The problem with Muslim immigrants is becoming bigger and bigger,” Mr. Wobmann said in an interview on Monday. “Radical Muslims have more and more rights and we must limit this.”

Similarly, the Swiss arm of Pegida, which in German stands for Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West, said it is organizing a demonstration next month against Muslim immigration. The parent group, which recently led large-scale protests in Dresden to protest Germany’s growing Muslim population, says such immigrants aren’t adopting the country’s values.

Swiss authorities and analysts have said the anti-Islam calls are worrying, even though it is unclear how much support they have among the broader public. Muslims make up about 5% of Switzerland’s roughly eight million people, according to the Federal Office of Statistics, and the country hasn’t experienced a terrorist attack in decades, although intelligence services in the country are investigating at least one suspected terror cell.

Martine Brunschwig Graf, who heads Switzerland’s national commission against racism, denounced Mr. Wobmann’s position as “discriminatory,” adding that it creates “an atmosphere of hate.”

Zurich’s Mahmud Mosque, the country’s oldest, has been under police protection since vandals smeared red paint on it after the Paris attacks.

“Creating more divisions is dangerous for society,” said Ahmed Sadaqat, the mosque’s imam, adding that some of members of his congregation had been verbally abused in the wake of the attacks. “I am very concerned about the current climate.”

Switzerland’s Muslims have found themselves targets of anti-foreign sentiment in the past.

In 2009, Swiss voters banned the construction of minarets, the towers on mosques from which people are called to prayer, while Ticino, a Swiss canton near Italy, voted in 2013 to ban burqas and other clothing associated with Muslim women.

Michael Hermann, a political scientist at Zurich’s Sotomo research institute, said Switzerland’s system of initiatives, which allow citizens to vote on social issues, had allowed the country to express concerns without the need for popular movements, like Pegida.

 “There certainly are anti-Muslim feelings in Switzerland,” Mr. Hermann said. But they have “found expression” through Switzerland’s political system, he said.

Mr. Wobmann, who was among the leaders of the initiative to ban new minarets, said he is in the midst of organizing a vote to ban the wearing of burqas nationwide. He is currently gathering support from other politicians and collecting the signatures needed to trigger a national vote.

“The burqa is a symbol of radical Islam and is also used to oppress women,” said Mr. Wobmann. “The Swiss traditions of tolerance, and our culture, democratic and economic system must not be damaged.”

The Wall Street Journal

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