Tag Archives: Rubeiz

Ghassan Michel Rubeiz: In Libya, Benghazi’s freedom fighters face a massacre

Authorized, decisive international intervention in Libya is urgent.

At the start of the Libyan uprising, demonstrators armed with freedom symbols faced soldiers armed with bullets. By cruelly suppressing its society, the Libyan regime has forfeited its legitimate sovereignty. As diplomats debate ending Gaddahfi’s rule , he is left free to murder the people demanding change.

The reaction of the US administration to events in Libya has been inconsistent. President Obama chose his words carefully when he said that Gaddahfi must leave office for the good of his people. But in a matter of days, as the ruthless colonel made territorial gains in fighting back the rebels, Obama sounded hesitant to expedite Gaddahfi ‘s departure. He said the “cost” for the removal of this despot maybe too high for the US.

Leaving Libya in the background this week, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visits Cairo and Tunis to promote “freedom and democracy”. She has softly rebuked Saudi Arabia for sending soldiers to defend the rulers of Bahrain and called for “restraint” from both sides. Libya’s rapid advance in crushing the revolution does not seem to alarm the US. Washington coldly figures that as troubles in Bahrain escalate, Libya could wait for more convenient and risk free intervention.

America’s fear for the eventual tumbling of the Saudi ally factors highly in every US action in the region. The implication of a rapid fall of Libya terrifies many in Washington. Not as purported, the coolness of Washington to intervention in Libya seems like a matter of conflict of interest rather than a lesson learned from the Iraq war. For many American policy hawks, the Iraq war was worth its heavy cost; but when it comes to desperate Libyan nation even authorized international intervention sounds risky for those same hawks.

Libya’s revolution is at risk of failure. The Libyan army is heading east for a decisive battle with the rebels. A bloody battle is expected in Benghazi. The army has the capacity to kill while the rebels have only the will to overcome injustice.

Given the lack of symmetry in power, the Benghazi confrontation may soon turn into a massacre. The crushed rebellion would leave Libya with tens of thousands of innocent victims, a destroyed infrastructure, a demoralized nation, an angry region and a world community in a state of collective guilt.

A failure in Libya’s bid for freedom is not only a tragedy for a single nation; it is a reversal for the cause of freedom in the entire region. Despite their heroism, the rebel’s failure in Libya sends a comforting message to the Arab despots: bloody force works in suppressing opposition. Defeating the freedom fighters reinstates people’s fear of the ruler, the root cause of political stagnation in the Middle East.

Regardless of who wins the Benghazi battle, at the end of the day, the Libyan regime is fated for self destruction. As Gaddahfi’s rule is soaked in crime, deep in theft of national resources, accountable for massacres, and despised at home and abroad, it is doomed.

While it is difficult to imagine the Libyan regime surviving for long, when the eventual change in regime occurs, how the rebels come to power is important. In a state which has subdued its opposition for so long, cosmetic transfer of power should not replace genuine reform achieved by an empowered and proud opposition.

The wavering international community must not wait for a massacre to justify authorized, decisive intervention. Gaddahfi must be forced to step down sooner rather than later

Rubeiz: As Arab regimes are shaken allies and foes ponder the future

[Palm Beach Gardens FL]–The Arab political coma is over. The spirit of Tunisia is in the Arab psyche. The knees of Arab despots are shaking in North Africa, West Asia and the Gulf states.

It is not only Arabs that are reviewing their priorities and thinking of the future. Israel, having for too long taken advantage of fratricidal regional politics, is now perturbed about Arab awakening. Israel should know that a reforming Arab world would ask for better terms in return for lasting peace.

Claiming to be neutral to Arab revolts, Washington is on the defensive. The White House gives pastoral advice to dictators, while it ignores its complicity in building intimate alliances with the most objectionable of regimes in the region.

Three contagious forms of change are at play today in the Arab world: a grassroots movement targeting oppressive rule in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan; a latent electoral shift in Lebanon and an authorized, electoral initiative to partition Sudan.

For the past five days, an unprecedented uprising has been taking place on the streets of Egypt. Egyptians call for the departure of their last Pharaoh, President Hosni Mubarak. This North African country is the center of the Arab world, a close ally of the US and a frustrated mediator of Arab-Israeli peace.

Mubarak will have to step down as his determined people demand. So far, his army has been friendly to the demonstrators. As the media exposes the scandals of this regime, it is anyone’s guess how long he can retain his post. However, if this revolution is infiltrated by elements paid to loot and spread chaos, the army might intervene and delay the departure of an expired rule.

Washington is hoping for Mubarak staying power. Obama calls on Mubarak to put “meaning into words” by introducing “concrete reform”. The White House should have gone further and stated that the people want real regime change rather than cosmetics. Obama looked so professorial in his televised message to Mubarak. The US president would do well to give “meaning” to his Middle East foreign policy by offering “concrete” steps to a derailed Arab-Israeli peace.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu knows that Arabs will gain power as they reform. Israel now spins the argument that the only alternative to Arab secular autocrats is Islamic theocrats. Are we to assume from this strange logic that Arabs do not learn from the past?

Muslims ideologues are gradually learning that the Koran must not be used as a political handbook or an encyclopedia; that religion does not mix well with politics. The problems of Islamist politics are on display in Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. It is too early to tell for sure, but the spreading revolts appear to be essentially secular and non-ideological.

The course of revolutions is unpredictable; there is always a chance that political Islam will be dominant in some countries. There is no reason to assume that the less Islamic the regime, the better it is. Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia are Islamic states that allow ample distance between political and religious authority. Each society will learn from its own experience how to integrate religion with governance.

Indeed, if the West does not cooperate with and support emerging reform movements, extreme theocrats may have a better chance of wrenching power from secular parties, especially when state infrastructure is weak, the middle class is thin and civic organization is timid. In any case, people are entitled to shape their own political reform.

Washington is not showing the same neutrality in dealing with Lebanon and Sudan as with Egypt. When the Lebanese government collapsed last week, Washington was eager to dictate policy preferences in the management of a local crisis. Contrary to the US agenda, a populist opposition has already assumed leadership in the forming of the new government. The new cabinet is expected to distance itself from a US- backed, UN-sponsored Special Tribunal for Lebanon. This Tribunal is about to issue an indictment implicating Hezbollah in the 2005 murder of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The majority of the Lebanese consider the indictment of Hezbollah procedurally compromised and a threat to national stability. Some believe that Washington’s close attention to a six-year old assassination is politically motivated. Many consider Hezbollah’s militia a national defense force. A just solution to the Palestinian problem is a priority for Lebanon; the Lebanese shelter 400,000 Palestinians refugees.

If Egypt is about dethroning a tyrant, and Lebanon is about an ideological shift from the right to the center, Sudan is about the breakup of a country after a long process of ethnic polarization. The US has dominated Sudanese affairs for years through foreign aid.

A referendum has recently authorized the southern region of Sudan to secede from the North. For decades, a tyrannical theocratic regime has hijacked Islam by ruling irresponsibly. For 22 years, the mainly Christian and animist people of the South fought a bloody civil war against the forces of Khartoum. A peace treaty ended the civil war in 2005. The agreement gave the people of the South the right to determine their future. In early January, a referendum revealed an overwhelming desire of the people of the South to secede from the North. If the two sides of Sudan can learn to cooperate as separate entities, they could immensely improve the fate of their peoples. If they continue to work against each other, they will perpetuate agony.

As Arab systems evolve, lessons emerge.

Genuine foreign aid should focus on responding to deserving people rather than sustaining compliant regimes.

The ascendance of Hezbollah in Lebanon indicates that the smallest of the Arab countries can sow fear in Israel. The best way for Israel to deal with a political resistance which cannot be eliminated by force is by addressing its legitimate concerns.

Middle Eastern states with ethnic and religious divisions – such as Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and Cyprus- point to a sobering phenomenon: prolonged unjust rule generates irreversible secession movements.

Political reforms will eventually empower the people of the Middle East. But reform will progress at varying rates and not without setbacks.

It is in Israel’s best interest, to embrace such inevitable reforms rather than opposing them. The Zionist state cannot count on perpetual Arab despair and disunity. In a new context of political reform, Israel will have to offer realistic terms for peace with Arabs.

A new order of global politics has just started.

Rubeiz: The human element

Jerusalem: sunset view from Mount of Olives, with Church of Mary Magdalene (Russian) and Dome of the Rock

East Meredith NY–During a historical visit to Jerusalem in 1979, late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt proclaimed that the Arab-Israeli conflict is largely psychological.

Inherited notions about history and deeply felt convictions about the injustices are so strong that when an Arab-American meets a Jewish-American socially they tend to avoid politics at all cost. Discussing differences might spoil a relationship between an Arab and Jew who may share a neighbourhood, a business, a classroom or a workplace.

However, though the majority swims with the current, there is a significant minority on each side of the Mideast divide, which challenges extremist views and works hard to promote understanding and a justice-based peace. There are people who endeavour to break through the barriers between the communities and engage in an open-minded exchange.

Examples are easy to find. I have a personal story to tell about our family’s meeting with a creative and peace-loving Jewish family. I am an Arab-American of Lebanese descent, and my wife, Mary, is an American who has lived a few years in Lebanon.

It started in late May, when Bruce Roter, a Jewish reader expressed appreciation for an article in which I appealed to the Arabs and Jews of America to work together for peace in the Middle East. Responding to my appeal, Bruce Roter said “I hear you”. He added, “I am the composer of a symphonic work… ‘A Camp David Overture (Prayer for Peace)'” and he shared with me the YouTube link.

Bruce is a professor of music at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Mrs. Jihan Sadat (Sadat’s wife) praised his 1996 composition. This work has been performed for the promotion of peace in several US cities over the last 14 years, in the hope, as Bruce puts it “that this music can foster cultural ties among all the people of the region”. When it was played in Washington three years ago, official representatives from Israel, Egypt, France and Canada attended the concert.

After hearing an excerpt of this inspiring work, I arranged a meeting with Bruce and his family, including his wife Monique, and three children.

The Roter family has had ample exposure to life in the Middle East. Monique’s parents emigrated from Egypt in the 1950s. Growing up in a Sephardi family, Monique has an inbuilt taste for Middle East food and the Levantine culture.

On a sunny day, in late July, Bruce and his family shared a meal with ours: “lubie blahmeh” over rice, a green bean stew with beef. We talked about all sorts of Mideast dishes with nostalgia: “Bamie”, “Mulukhia”, “Wara inab”. Over lunch, Monique told us that her parents were expelled from Egypt during the Nasser regime. I saw no anger on Monique’s face. I did not offer my perspective for the departure of so many talented communities from Egypt during the revolutionary period of Nasser; commentary on history to interpret a sensitive personal story may sound callous.

The meal provided an easygoing setting to share sensitive ideas. The Roters are strong advocates for Israel, but they see this state’s future security strengthened through the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Afterwards, we invited a small group of friends to listen to Bruce introduce and play the CD of his “peace overture”. We asked many questions and Bruce was glad to explain his approach to teaching music and creating it. He also talked about his latest work, a children’s peace opera, “The Classroom.” The setting of the opera is a classroom composed of two ethnic groups. The debut will take place this fall in an Albany elementary school, where the Roter children are enrolled. In the premier performance, the two groups will be Palestinian and Israeli children.

The Rubeiz and Roter families have established a new friendship born out of a common appreciation for coexistence of a secure Israeli state and a future Palestinian state. The two families feel strongly that conflict could either divide or bring people together. People unite when there is a common will to avoid war in solving problems. We hope that this friendship will deepen with time, regardless of how the political situation develops.

The Mideast has millions of stories – some sad, some happy, some of mixed affect. Yet it is the human element, I find, to be a key to understanding, explaining and solving the conflict in the Middle East.

Rubeiz: Middle East reconciliation in the Diaspora

Palm Beach Gardens FL–In trying to save Israel and save Palestine, competing interest groups in Washington are “saving” no more than the conflict itself.

The efforts of the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities in America should be harnessed for the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict. So far, the Jews advocate for Israel and the Arabs and Muslims promote Palestine. This one-sided loyalty significantly slows down the peace process.

The boldness of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in arguing his case for building settlements is bolstered by the unconditional support he receives from much of the American Jewish community. In crisis situations, siding with Israel trumps any other position, regardless of whether Netanyahu is right or wrong. In seeking peace, the White House must work creatively with the Jewish community. Obama should also work with the Arab and Muslim American communities; they are an important factor in the promotion of peace.

Would the Jewish American community ever consider cooperating with the Arab and Muslim American communities (and vice versa) in the process of finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict? So far, the incentives on both sides have not been strong enough for such cooperation. But the three Diasporas may have to work together, sooner rather than later.

The relevance of the Jewish American community to the resolution of the conflict lies in its very powerful lobby and the history of American-Israeli relations. And while the Arab and Muslim American communities do not have strong influence in the Congress, they can potentially serve as a rich intellectual resource, with a freedom to pose daring ideas and an ability to mediate with the Arab and Muslim worlds-factors of great potential for the promotion of peace.

Could the Arab and Muslim communities extend the hand of reconciliation to the American Jewish community? This shift requires formidable moral and political courage. Jews need to be assured that Israel has a right to exist and be safe in the Middle East. Arabs could acknowledge that Israel has great potential in contributing to the development of the region.

Arabs often pose a rhetorical question: why does Israel need more assurance? The answer is largely psychological. Perceptions of Israel’s invincibility are, to a large extent, illusory. Although Israel is a military regional superpower, being a demographic minority, feeling regional isolation, observing a growing Palestinian population, dealing with the guilt of the occupation, watching the Muslim world adopting “Palestine”, looking at Iran’s military build up and regional alliances – all such factors make most Jews anxious to the core and worried about the future.

The Arab and Muslim communities could launch a campaign in Hebrew addressing suffering, condemning prejudice, incitement and fanaticism. Arabs could lead Jewish delegations to Muslim cities around the world to deal with stereotypes through dialogue. They could call for a worldwide conference of reconciliation and peace in Cairo, and then in Jerusalem. This conference would be an occasion to popularize the idea that social justice and forgiveness go together.

The Jewish American side could also reach out to Muslims and Arabs. Arab and Muslim Americans have felt vulnerable in America since September 11, have accepted Israel’s existence within its 1967 borders, have organised an American Task Force on Palestine – which is active in dialogue with Jewish groups – and have actively participated in interfaith programs all over America.

The American media campaign against Islamism should be discouraged. The Jewish community has a special role in calming the right-wing evangelical political forces.

The most important mutual gesture of reconciliation could be the drafting of a common peace proposal on behalf of the Jewish, Arab and Muslim communities. The experience of preparing such a historic document would generate healing and a potential breakthrough.

All three sides in the American Diaspora should discover that the adversary is thirsty for reconciliation; that each side is a potential mediator in the festering Arab-Israeli conflict; and that joint advocacy across the divide could generate real peace.

Rubeiz: Europe – the missing key to Middle East peace

Palm Beach Gardens FL–The latest American Middle East peace initiative has been launched in the absence of change in the attitudes of the protagonists or in the political landscape. Is America gambling with a new round of dead-end diplomacy by packaging old wine in new bottles?

The United States urgently needs Europe if it wants to break the deadlocked peace negotiations and Europe needs to take additional responsibility for resolving the conflict. Indeed, Israel may also need to reassess Europe’s relevance for its future.

The problem is that the White House has been working with the wrong assumption. The current deadlock does not stem from a dispute over the order of topics to negotiate, for example the place of a settlement freeze in relation to other controversial subjects. Rather, it lies in the predisposition of the stakeholders in the conflict: America has too close a relationship to Israel to be able to twist its partner’s arm to take a risk for peace. Israel is too comfortable with the occupation and the Palestinians are divided. Moreover, Arab rulers do not convey credibility.

Strong international pressure is needed to break the deadlock. But Washington alone is losing political muscle. Close co-ordination between the United States and Europe could both strengthen the power of mediation and provide international security to enforce a peace agreement.

To better understand Europe’s credentials for peace promotion, consider some historical facts: Europe played a major role in the formation of the state of Israel. The British government authorised the “Homeland for the Jews.” The apocalyptic tragedy of the Holocaust, a central factor that in the promotion of a Jewish state, was a Nazi German undertaking. Indeed, Jews who fled from Europe formed the essential backbone of the early state of Israel. And the first peace mission to the region after the 1967 occupation was undertaken by a European – Gunnar Jarring, the Swedish envoy to the United Nations.

Over the years, Europe’s role as a mediator receded, giving way to an expanding US role in the region. But in more recent decades, European states have achieved excellence in policing peace in many places: in the Middle East, the Balkans, West Africa and elsewhere. Given the opportunity, Europe could provide the Israelis and Palestinians with the necessary international security that is crucial for enforcing a two-state solution.

This international security is necessary, as most Palestinians strongly feel that a future Palestine would require a national army (albeit, possibly a symbolic one). Palestinian skies and borders must be free. But Israel considers an armed, independent Palestinian state, including armed movements such as Hamas within it, a threat to its current and future security.

Stationing international forces of peace on the borders of Israel and an envisioned Palestine state, backed by Europe would simultaneously give Palestinians the independence they need and Israel the security it yearns for.

Despite its limitations, a peace-keeping model is already on the ground in the region in the shape of Unifil, the UN force in southern Lebanon, which largely consists of and has been led by European states. This force could be modified, strengthened and broadened to cover the West Bank, Gaza, and possibly the Syrian Golan borders. Currently, the EU itself has a police mission along the border with Egypt, and despite its observer status, it could further contribute through an expansion to the 1967 borders. Indeed, Palestinians are more likely to be tolerant of a European force, bearing in mind Europe’s perceived balance in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Europe, or rather, the EU can further contribute to a future agreement by offering, as an incentive to Israel and future Palestine, a “special status,” similar to the EU’s recent offer to Morocco. Also, Europe is urging the two factions of Cyprus to make peace in order to qualify as a united country for EU membership. Why not link the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict to the prospects of securing Israel and establishing a viable Palestinian state within a protective, suitable regional framework? If Cyprus is a candidate for the EU why not Israel and Palestine?

The long-term future of Israel could depend more on Europe than on the United States. Hopefully, one day, should Israel decide to withdraw from the 1967 territories, it might discover that Europe could be its bridge to the Arab world.

Rubeiz: Israel’s security lies in regional peace

Palm Beach Gardens FL – On March 22 Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu defiantly declared to the world that: “there will be no freeze on construction in Jerusalem. Everyone knows it.”

An enduring occupation requires a high level of arrogance and a poker face in rationalization of injustice. The international community is well aware that Israel may have reached its limits in “digesting” the occupation demographically. Washington, in particular, is worried about Tel-Aviv’s denial of reality: for every Jew there is an Arab within post 1967 Israel controlled land.

The Israeli government is nervous about a serious shift in the US administration’s attitude towards an extended, worsening and hazardous occupation. The White House expects Israel to freeze illegal building of housing in occupied Palestinian territories and to come to the peace table. But Israel insists that it is not ready to stop building on “liberated” land. Tension between Tel Aviv and Washington is mounting.

The US relationship with Israel has been exceptionally close for years. Many believe this relationship has in fact turned symbiotic; seemingly the interests of the two states are deemed to be identical. Recently, however, the leadership of the US military and national security has voiced concerns over this level of closeness to Tel-Aviv and over Washington’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Over the past six decades, Israel has partnered with the US, militarily and diplomatically, but the Zionist state has become too alienated from the region. Does Israel expect America to continue indefinitely to tolerate the occupation, offer massive aid, defend the Jewish state in the United Nations and ignore collective punishment of the Palestinians?

For their part, the Arab states have made a bad situation worse by irresponsible treatment of Palestinians, blaming Israel for all their troubles, refusal of much needed reform and counterproductive diplomacy. But Israel’s enduring occupation cannot be rationalized as a necessity for security.

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has been in doubt about its future. The US has been supporting Israel unconditionally since the 1967 war, a cataclysmic event which bolstered Israel territorially but exposed it to endless risk.

Advocates of Israel interests call upon Obama to be “gentle” and “reassuring” with Israel, but advocates of Palestinian rights expect our president to be firm with a government which regards land annexation as land reclamation, sanctified by divine will. Building settlements on occupied land is illegal under the Geneva Conventions; for Palestinians, annexation is theft of their private properties.

Sentiment against Israel’s defiance of international law has been growing slowly within the US, and more so in Europe. In response, Netanyahu has been trying hard to shift world attention from Israel-Palestine to Iran. He has partially succeeded. By reviving the image of Iran as the center of the “axis of evil”, the Israeli occupation has been downplayed. This diplomatic diversion paints Israel’s land-grab as a “tolerable” infraction, when contrasted with Iran’s nuclear threat, purportedly aimed at “vulnerable” Israel. US sanctions on Iran are tightening.

For some unclear and disturbing reason, Israel’s possession of a large stockpile of atomic bombs has been ignored in dealing with Iran’s crisis. The nuclear crisis is regional and not a recent emergency; it started in the early seventies when Israel was permitted in secret by the US to acquire the bomb. For the Middle East, there is a double standard regarding legitimacy of occupying foreign land and the possession of weapons of mass destruction.

The Arab and Muslim worlds see Zionism through their own lens. Unconditional US support of Israel has tarnished America’s reputation in the Muslim world. In recent months, some of Israel’s own friends have had second thoughts about the cost of the occupation and defense of settlement policy. Many wonder if Israel is risking its future in holding on to the occupation. US intelligence predicts dire demographic consequences for a state that swells in power and yet shrinks in security.

The occupation of vast Palestinian and Syrian territory, annexation, settlements, a Berlin-wall like fence (deep inside the West Bank), endless check points and collective punishment (against a mixture of civil rebellion, military resistance and fading terrorism), all such measures erode Israel’s democracy. Should Israel become an apartheid-like regime, as is expected in a decade or so, reverse migration of Jews may take place. An alternative could be ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians. Both scenarios are nightmarish.

True friends of Israel should encourage the Jewish state to end the occupation by seeking peace. Israel’s security will not improve through a new war with Iran.

Likewise, true friends of Palestinians should encourage them to unite around a platform of democracy and human rights. Such supporters should also demand Arab political awakening to provide a climate in which a future Palestinian state could be viable and democratic.

An inclusive and comprehensive regional approach for US foreign policy should be based on treating Israel, Iran and the Arab world as equidistant stakeholders. Only such a balanced policy can help Israel to integrate within the region and relieve the US from the impossible task of securing a state with elastic borders.

Lasting security for Israel can only be achieved through peace with neighbors.

Ghassan Rubeiz: Banning minarets in Switzerland

Palm Beach Gardens FL–The freedom to express symbols in the place of worship is an important part of religious rights guaranteed by all democratic societies. Now, Switzerland has one thing in common with Saudi Arabia.

The Swiss referendum vote to ban erection of minarets is reminiscent of Saudi Arabia’s banning of church buildings. The Saudis do not mind Christians conducting worship services in school buildings but they do not tolerate church buildings. There is a strange parallel here: banning minarets in a country that celebrates diversity and banning church buildings in a country that celebrates cultural purity.

The Swiss vote was a result of fear rather than hate. This judgmental decision on Islamic architecture reflects society’s fear of a growing Muslim minority in the land of William Tell. The anxiety is not irrational or unique; Europe and the wider Western world worry about changing Muslim demographics and mobilize ethnocentric politics. While anxiety about integration of Muslim minorities in Western society is understandable, regressive policies to force integration of minorities or to slow immigration of foreigners will backfire. Provoking the hesitant immigrant reinforces his/her isolation.

To facilitate social integration, the host country must understand the culture of its minorities and respect their sentiments. Muslim immigrants are much attached to their religion, and why not. For Muslims, especially their migrants, religion may also be a way of life. Banning minarets in Western mosques would risk alienating Muslims from larger society in adopted countries.

The newly introduced minaret policy is problematic in more ways than imagined. The policy is provocative to the global Muslim community, is in violation of European sentiments on long standing religious freedoms and works against Western interests in the Muslim world.

Minarets are powerful symbols to all Muslims, even to the many adherents who do not habitually visit mosques. The result of this referendum is seen an act of cultural suppression, a slap in the face.

The Arabic word for Minaret is Mi’zana, which means tower for calling the faithful to prayer. The minaret is the equivalent of the church altar for Christians. In a sense, the Mi’zana is symbolically the face of the mosque.

The banning of minarets sends a special message of rejection to the tens of millions of European Muslims. The ban of this symbol adds the minaret to an expanding list of Islamic codes that evoke limitless debate in Europe. Europe is moving on an obsessive track of debate over non substantial issues: the veil, the Danish cartoon, the minaret and who knows what next? Xenophobic politicians and media anchors that lust for emotionally divisive issues have now a new story to spin, the minaret.

The social context is relevant in this story. Five percent of the Swiss are Muslim; Most Swiss Muslims are partially or fully naturalized refugees from the Balkans. They are largely of a secular mindset. Switzerland is the seat the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, UNHCR, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, UNHRC. Switzerland is among the leading nations in religious tolerance and respect for human rights. The result of this referendum is at odds with the Swiss culture of tolerance.

The West works hard to secure military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere on Muslim territories. Western governments search with diligence for new ways to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The West invests heavily in public diplomacy to create a culture of exchange and understanding with Arabs and Muslims. Banning minarets in the heart of Europe undermines the strategic Western interests in the Muslim world.

Identity building promotes security and is the foundation of integration. Minarets are “flags” of identity that should enhance social integration rather than impede it.

The West must continue to honor its high standards of respect for religious diversity. Minarets are not threatening but banning them may have that effect. This ban will soon be challenged within Swiss society and by the European Union.