The president of the leftwing Social Democrat Party has added his voice to the religious debate in Switzerland, calling for a discussion about the status of Islam in the country.
The party is the second one to moot the possibility of a new religion article in the Swiss constitution.
“We should think about whether we want to recognise Islam as an official religion so that we don’t leave the training and financing of Imams to foreign and perhaps fundamental circles,” Christian Levrat told the SonntagsZeitung.
“We must ask the question about whether there can be a Swiss Islam.”
It is now up to the cantons to reflect on this, because the relation between state and religion comes under their remit, according to Switzerland’s federal system. “Perhaps in the end we will have this religion article,” said Levrat.
At the end of July, Gerhard Pfister, the head of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, also mooted the possibility of a religion article in the constitution. It could give guidance on which values are applicable for all, he said.
Burka ban issue
Levrat’s party appears to be split over some religious questions, in particular the issue nationwide burka ban in Switzerland.
Currently signatures are being collected for an initiative that calls for such a move. Italian-speaking canton Ticino is the only place where a burka ban is in force.
There was surprise when Social Democratic Zurich politician Mario Fehr, who is head of the city’s security department, recently added his voice to calls for burkas to be outlawed. He has been joined by Pierre-Yves Maillard, a senior politician in canton Vaud.
Levrat said that he was against the current initiative to ban burkas because of its “questionable aims”. But he said he was also against the burka as such.
“We should stand by, support and advise women who have been forced in whatever way to wear the burka or a niqab,” he said. Cantons should continue financing advice centres. This would be better than a populist initiative, he argued.
As for his party colleagues in favour of a ban: they could do this on a cantonal level, if they wanted, he said.
Swiss values debate
Party leader Pfister argued that Switzerland had been too tolerant of people who want intolerance. Those who seek protection in Switzerland, will still receive it, but “whoever wants protection but doesn’t respect our values, should find a country of protection that fits better with his own values”.
The Christian Democrats must take a position for a “Christian-based western society and its rule of law”, continued Pfister.
The conservative right Swiss People’s Party - Switzerland’s largest party - which was also holding its summer meeting on Saturday, is better known for its hard line on these issues. In his opening speech, leader Albert Rösti spoke of the need to maintain Swiss values and to have a tough asylum policy.