Last month, Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of mosque minarets. It’s worth reminding everyone that among the 150 mosques built in Switzerland, only four used to have a minaret. Four too many, according to the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and 57% of the Swiss voters.
Unlike other European countries, Switzerland has no colonial past in Arab or predominately Muslim countries, which many of the Muslim migrants living in Europe come from. Almost 60% of the Muslims based in Switzerland are de facto members of the European community, as they came from the Balkans (mostly Bosnia and Kosovo). But no one cares. Instead of being a part of the European culture, Islam is very reluctantly tolerated in Europe. This “tolerance” is built upon the condition that Muslims—and in particular Muslim women—agree to the paradox of being both invisible in their religious practices and hyper-visible in the caricatures of these same religious practices. Muslim women can be accepted by the societies they live in as long as they accept to be visible only when the media decides so.
In this respect, it is essential to look at the visual material in the Swiss campaign against minarets. This poster (pictured below) shows a woman fully wrapped in a black niqab instead of a basic hijab. Her eyebrows hint at a menacing scowl. She is rounded by minarets, which appear as makeshift nuclear weapons piercing the Swiss flag. They represent the so-called danger of creeping Islamization in Switzerland.
This image of a Muslim woman falls in to the newest stereotype to befall us: the Menacing Muslim Woman, who unleashes fundamentalism, terrorism, and death wherever she goes. Nobody assumes that her missile-like minarets are meant to represent intercultural harmony or peace.
In a book entitled “The Anti-Semitic Poster in France under Occupation” (Editions Berg International, 2008), the historian Diane Afoumado focuses on the anti-Semitic symbolism, the repetition of clichés and colors, especially yellow and black. Afoumado says that the main objective of anti-Semitic posters was to make the viewers feel that “the Jew” is necessarily different from them, that “it” did not even share the common ground of humanity. They are not like us.
As Alexander Gainem puts it in an article published on IslamOnline that traces the origins of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in European history, the “violence of Islamophobia should be taken seriously”. As the German playwright Bertolt Brecht warned: “The belly is still fertile that gave birth to the vile beast.”