Swiss minarets, as seen from Turkey
ANKARA -- In Turkey, the Swiss referendum banning the building of new minarets is perceived as just another example of Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "This decision is primitive, outdated, and manifestation of a Western understanding." Warning that this decision rings alarm bells, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu added "There is an increase in Islamophobia. We will live together everywhere in the globalized world, and we need to develop a new spirit of tolerance." EU Minister Egemen Bagis criticized the decision with the words"Switzerland should not become an open museum of intolerance; at least it shouldn't remain so. I hope that the Swiss authorities will realize this mistake soon."
In Davutoglu's words "a new spirit of tolerance" is needed throughout the world and not the least in Turkey. Most people in Turkey criticized the Swiss vote sharply. Some commentators also tried to draw attention to Turkey's own situation in terms of tolerance to different religions and beliefs. The rights of the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey were regulated to a large extent by the Treaty of Lausanne, which gives reciprocal rights to the Muslim Turkish minority that lives in Greece and Christian Minorities in Turkey. Neither the situation in Greece nor the one in Turkey is better than the situation in Switzerland.
There is not a single mosque in Athens, and building one is practically out of question. There are many churches in Turkey, built during the Ottoman Era; however it is almost impossible to build a new one. This is a problematic situation, because Turkey is now home to some new Christian communities that did not exist during the Ottoman Era, like the German and Russian Communities in Antalya and the small Turkish Protestant Communities throughout the country. Not only is it almost impossible to build a new church, it is also very difficult to repair an old one due to bureaucratic obstacles.
The same thing is true for synagogues in slightly more favorable degrees. The situation of non-Muslim minorities aside, the Alevite minority also has many problems. Their children can't opt out of the compulsory religious education at primary and secondary education which teaches Sunni Islam to a large extent. Alevites also have problems in registering their Cemevi buildings as places of worship. Instead, Turkey recognizes these places as cultural centers.
In Turkey, nonbelievers, conservative Sunni Muslims, secular Muslims, and almost every group has serious complaints. It's worth repeating the words of Ahmet Davutoglu: "We will live together everywhere in the globalized world, and we need to develop a new spirit of tolerance." The Swiss vote gives Turkey the chance to look in the mirror and remember that it is also part of this world.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli is the director of GMF's Ankara office.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.