Terror attacks, political manoeuvering by rightwing parties and oversimplification in the media explain why Muslims in Switzerland are perceived as a threat.
The National Research Programme 58 study into religious pluralism says immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries have been singled out even though this group has no reason to be suspected as fundamentalist.
The research, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, was led by Patrik Ettinger and Kurt Imhof of Zurich University.
The authors point out that the immigrants in question come from very diverse countries like Turkey, Macedonia and Morocco and practise their faith in a variety of ways, seeing themselves first and foremost as members of a particular ethnic group.
Their research focused on how often and in what way Muslims were mentioned in domestic newspapers and public television reports beginning in the 1960s. Parliamentary debates were also included, and how these were covered in the media.
Oversimplification, the study says, has increased among both politicians and in the media in recent years, leading to the approval by voters of a ban on the construction of new minarets in 2009.
“It wasn’t as much the media reports about the 9/11 attacks as the bombings in Madrid and London, as well as the Danish caricatures of the Muslim prophet. The reporting on these events led to the creation of the image of a violent Islam and a clash of civilisations,” Ettinger told swissinfo.ch.
“It was in particular the Swiss People’s Party and to a lesser extent the Federal Democratic Union who took the image of Muslims out of an international context and put it into a national one,” Ettinger pointed out.
In this way Muslim immigrants became “the Muslims”.
Previously, Ettinger explained, they were categorised according to their ethnicity; like Turks or Bosnians. “That doesn’t mean that immigrants were regarded favourably, rather problems were put down to ethnic traits rather than religion.”