The Politics of Muslims’ Rights in Western Countries: the Anti-Halal Debate and Minaret Ban

Stream: Panel 70 - Comparative Politics: Prejudice and Ethnic & Religious Minorities 
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 9.00 am – 10.30 am

Abstract

The spotlight on IS and Islamic terrorism has fuelled increasing Islamophobic attitudes toward Muslims in Western countries. One justification for the negative sentiments toward Muslims is their allegedly illiberal religious and cultural practices which are supposedly a mismatch with the liberal-democratic values of the West. Ironically, the ‘solution’ appears to be treating Muslims in illiberal and discriminatory ways. This paper compares and contrasts two different political drives against Muslims in two liberal-democratic Western countries: the anti-Halal movement in Australia and the minaret ban referendum in Switzerland. In both cases, while deliberately targeting Muslims, proponents argued that they were not discriminating against Muslims because Muslims can still practice their religion without Halal certified food or minarets. However, they also argue that placing a halt on Muslims’ rights is equivalent to stopping Islamic terrorism, the implementation of Sharia Law, and the conversion of Australia and Switzerland into Muslim countries. By equating one thing to another, they are able to depict their demands as not only non-discriminatory and logical, but also necessary. The result, however, is one where Muslims have fewer rights compared to other religions and minority groups. While advocating a ban on Halal certification in Australia, supporters of the ban see no problem with Kosher certification or other food certification schemes. In Switzerland, all other religions are still free to build towers on their places of worship. This paper analyses the justification for the removal of Muslims’ rights in liberal-democratic countries.

Author

Jennifer E. Cheng (Presenter), Western Sydney University
Jennifer E. Cheng is Career Development Fellow in the Religion and Society Research Cluster at Western Sydney University. She completed a postdoc at the University of Bern, Switzerland where she investigated political discourses on Islam and Muslims in debates on the minaret ban in Switzerland. Her PhD, completed at Macquarie University, examined the way Australian politicians talked about Muslims in parliamentary debates during the citizenship reforms in 2006-2007. Her research interests lie in Islamophobia, racism, anti-racism, multiculturalism and citizenship, particularly in explorations of Muslim minorities in Western countries.