Friday, May 25, 2007

Switzerland: Religious and ethnic tension is on the rise, particularly focusing on Muslims

Sam Cage:

Switzerland is known for public order and efficiency. Its neutral status and high living standards, as well as its need for lower cost workers, have historically attracted refugees from conflicts around Europe and the world.

But with rising immigration -- and lack of integration caused partly by tight laws on handing out Swiss passports -- religious and ethnic tension has been on the rise, particularly focusing on Muslims.

"There is always this feeling that Switzerland is a little island and you daren't let anything in because it will destabilise it," said Clive Church, an expert on Swiss politics, recently retired from the University of Kent.

By the end of 2005, more than a fifth of Switzerland's 7.5 million residents were foreigners, a higher proportion than in any other European country except Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Most of those are from Europe, with large communities from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia, many of those Muslims who fled the conflicts there.

"Radical Islam is a huge foreign political factor," said Swiss culture and politics expert Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania. "None of the immigration before constituted an international threat. Now they do."

Foreigners accounted for more than 40 percent of registered jobless in April, according to government figures.

Some seek to ban minarets on Swiss mosques


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