*** Those who have good hearts will see the light therein/therewith. MS ***
The news about Switzerland’s ban on the construction of minarets has made the headlines, providing shocking evidence of the strength of increasing intolerance in Europe. I shall be writing more about the minaret ban and its implications later, God willing, but right now I wanted to share an interesting side note.
Daniel Streich was a member of the Swiss People’s party (SVP), the political party that pushed the minaret ban initiative. Streich is a military instructor in the Swiss Army and a local politician in the commune of Bulle. Formerly a devout Christian, he converted to Islam–and kept it a secret for two years.
Streich has left the SVP, made his conversion to Islam public, and has denounced the SVP’s anti-Muslim campaign as a witch hunt. As far as I can tell, this story has not broken in the English language press. So, I translated a news article on Streich from German to English, published at the Swiss news site Twenty Minutes Online. Here it is:
Daniel Streich, military instructor and, until recently, a Swiss People’s Party (SVP) politician in the city of Bulle, has left the party. The reason: He converted to Islam. For two years he kept this secret from his ex-party. Now, with the “witch hunt against Islam,” this situation has become unbearable for him.
He was a true SVPer and Christian. He read the Bible and regularly went to church. Now Daniel Streich, military instructor and community council member, reads the Qur’an, prays five times a day and goes to a mosque. “Islam offers me logical answers to important life questions, which, in the end, I never found in Christianity,” says Streich.
Because he could no longer stand the “SVP’s witch hunt against Islam” Streich left the part two weeks ago (around November 10, 2009) and has made his conversion to Islam become publicly known two years after his conversion. Now he’s participating in the building of the new Civil Conservative Democratic Party in the canton of Freiburg. The former churchgoer is vehemently against the minaret initiative: “If the initiative passes, it will be an absolute deep blow for me. I would have to ask myself, why I applied myself professionally and politically for over 30 years for this political system.” In contrast, Switzerland urgently needs more mosques. “It is not worthy of Switzerland to force Muslims to practice their faith in back alleys.”
Reactions in the SVP were mixed. “Everyone can believe what he wants to,” says General Secretary Martin Baltisser. SVP-National Council member Alfred Heer had a less friendly reaction. Politcal scientist Georg Lutz: “The SVP and Islam stand closer to each other than people suppose. Both advance a conservative worldview.”
With all due respect, I disagree with Lutz’ position. Muslims tend to have political attitudes that are similar to the social teaching of the Catholic Church: “progressive” on economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues, while being “conservative” on sexual ethics. But, a more accurate approach would be to say that Catholics and Muslims frequently do not fit within the stereotypical left/right divide.
If anything, I would say that both Catholicism and Islam are more to the Left. The Right emphasizes particularity (whether the micro-particularity of capitalist individualism or the macro-particularity of nationalism). The Left, on the other hand, tends to stress universality. A balanced political position will address both universality (we’re all members of the same species living on the same planet) and particularity (we are shaped and live in particular communities that have their own traditions, political needs, and strengths and weaknesses). How one falls on the left/right spectrum (assuming such a spectrum exists) would be a function of his or her relative stress on universality vs particularity. Since both Catholicism and Islam (along with other great world religions) say that what unites human beings is more important than what divides them, their fundamental tendency is somewhat to the Left (IMHO).
Anyway, there’s a sidebar item about an SVP politician trying to frame Streich’s conversion as a national security risk, implying that all Muslims in Western militaries are like the lone nut gunman at Fort Hood. (Ironically, in doing so he confirms Streich’s allegation that the SVP’s minaret ban is a “witch hunt” against Muslims). Here’s the piece:
Alfred Heer: Anxiety over the convert Daniel Streich?
Because Daniel Streich converted to Islam when he was an active professional member of the armed forces leads certain politicians to think: “That could be a security risk for the country. We’ve just seen what happened in the USA,” says SVP-National Council member Alfred Heer, referring to the shooting spree of a Muslim military psychiatrist at Fort Hood. Army spokesperson Christopher Brunner responded, “That is an absurd accusation.” The Swiss military is neutral on religious affiliations. Brunner: “it is totally irrelevant which religions our personnel belong to.” Performance, not belief, is what matters.
Whether Switzerland remains true to its democratic heritage, or follows the paranoia that feeds the extremism that devastated Europe in the 30’s and 40’s, depends on whether its citizens, in the long run, will think like Brunner or Heer. As for myself, I hope that some day I can see the Swiss Alps again without being harassed for my Islamic faith. Man denkt, Gott lenkt.