Ghosts in Swiss cultural rage

four churches in ZurichMolly Moore of The Washington Post Foreign Service had a dramatic and tragic story in Tuesday's paper that shows the surge of immigration -- and racist attitudes -- in the suburbs of Zurich, Switzerland. The land that embraced John Calvin and many other immigrants is struggling to embrace Muslims, but the Post story only hints at this fact, leaving the reader wondering what religion ghosts are hiding behind this story:

One of the world's oldest democracies is at the center of Western Europe's most divisive political debate: to embrace an increasingly globalized, multicultural society or to retreat into social isolation in an effort to preserve eroding traditional identities.

Across Switzerland, anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic attitudes have become so pervasive on the streets, in politics and within governmental institutions that the United Nations, European Union, Amnesty International and Switzerland's own Federal Commission Against Racism have expressed alarm in recent months.

The theme is dominating the campaign for national parliamentary elections Oct. 21 and is crystallized in a controversial campaign poster showing three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a Swiss flag above the slogan, "For more security." ...

The Commission Against Racism said those decisions "sometimes take the shape of a refusal with discriminatory and even racist overtones." The commission said most people denied citizenship were Muslims and natives of the Balkans who were granted asylum during the ethnic wars of the 1990s.

While Switzerland does not have an official state religion, many of the cantons (counties) do have official churches (supported by tax dollars) and represent either the Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church. While you have this in the background, the country has seen an influx of Muslims, primarily from Albania, among other immigrants (one-fifth of the country's residents are foreign-born), which is creating political and social tensions.

I wonder if this story is as much about groups of people opposing Muslims moving to their country as it is about racism. Where does one prejudice start and the other begin? And how does the country's official support of certain religions play into these developments?

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