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The sustainability of the political use of xenophobia January 4, 2010

Posted by tackettmedia in sustainability.
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Since November when the Swiss outlawed the construction of new minarets, people have asked my opinion on the issue.

Discussions still focus on the perceived or not-so-perceived xenophobia among the majority of the voting Swiss population. However, a select few, I count myself among them, see this vote as more than an outright ban on the new construction of minarets on mosques in Switzerland. I believe this was a brilliant political move from the far-right party called Swiss People’s Party.

What you need to know is that the Swiss People’s Party has been built by industrial billionaire Christoph Blocher (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3206778.stm ). At the height of his power, he was in the Federal Council* and was able to take over one party seat in the Federal Council for the Swiss People’s Party. However, in an unforeseen maneuver that showed a big division within his own party, he was ousted and the Swiss People’s Party was split in two.

During that time of turmoil the party has lost some face and direction. The November vote on the minarets has been a huge political win – reuniting followers and party members. Now the Swiss People’s Party wants to double up on its success. It is calling for a special session on the uncontrollable immigration caused by EU policies and the increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees.

Fear is the main weapon the Swiss People’s Party uses. Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that Switzerland has four minarets? Yes, that’s four (4!) in the entire country, and some of them have been there for years. In other words, it’s not as if all of a sudden minarets were popping up left and right. I bet prior to this vote, most people didn’t even know where these minarets are located. I certainly didn’t when I was still living in Switzerland.

This entire fiasco just shows the effectiveness of propaganda (the communicator in me wants to call this admiringly successful marketing). Switzerland was plastered with posters and marketing outreach from the Swiss People’s Party. The government didn’t deem it necessary to counteract, believing that the population would not buy into the fear-mongering. (Oh, how they were wrong!).

My question is, Will Switzerland be able to maintain its reputation of open-mindedness after voting so overwhelmingly against a problem that was not really a problem to begin with? In my opinion, Switzerland has lost big time. If the people don’t start checking the facts these political campaigns throw at them, the country will continue to vote on purely emotional levels.

During the past decade I’ve observed an alarming shift towards xenophobia and close-mindedness. Many in of my acquaintances do not belong to the Swiss People’s Party, but support Blocher’s ideas and rhetoric nonetheless. Unfortunately, his rhetoric is a mixture of half-truths and jumbled facts. The weakening of their own parties at the cost of the growth of the Swiss People’s Party has impressed many of the German-speaking voters. I now hear hateful phrases from people who would have been ashamed to openly utter those same words a few years ago. And as in so many parts of the world, xenophobia has become a successful, political tool.

What doesn’t make sense for this small mountain state, though, is that Switzerland has already one of the toughest immigration laws in the world. About 20 percent of the population consists of foreigners. And that’s not because they are all coming to Switzerland. No, many are born in Switzerland but do not have automatic citizenship. Besides, even if you are born in Switzerland, as long as your parents are foreigners you have to go through a burdensome immigration process before becoming Swiss.

* Switzerland is ruled by a council of seven members; presidency of the country rotates among the members of the Federal Council.

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