While much of the Swiss summer has proved miserable, for those of us who managed to get abroad, there were constant reminders of just how globally relevant the Lake Geneva region is. Somehow Switzerland is mentioned one way or another in any media coverage of the Middle East, banking, football, climate change or Ebola.
It was the base murder of American journalist Jim Foley by ISIS jihadists in Syria that brought all this home. Not only does Foley’s kidnapping and eventual killing underline the extreme danger that reporters, mainly freelance, now find themselves in when covering conflicts and humanitarian crises, but it also accentuates the increasingly nefarious role of young extremists brought up in Britain, France and other European countries, including Switzerland. They have abandoned civilized values by going off to fight, murder, rape and torture in the name of Islam.
Even though numbers remain small for Switzerland – an estimated 40–50 residents are believed to have headed off to Syria and Iraq to fight – this is a development that cannot be ignored. It is also an issue that needs to be discussed in schools, where such radicalization begins.
Not all are jihadists. Some have joined pro-Christian groups. But we’re not talking about idealistic Spanish Civil War volunteers. What makes everything so volatile is their need to resolve issues with sheer brutality at the end of a gun, or by beheading or crucifying anyone who thinks differently.
Even though many foreign jihadists are being – or will be – killed, it is likely that some will one day return home, together with their radicalism. This happened before when militants, including Osama bin Laden as well as European and American converts, headed off to Afghanistan in search of jihad and brought the concept of the “New Islamic Man”.
If such extremism is to be thwarted, Switzerland’s religious communities need to be more assertive. This includes the influential Islamic Centre of Geneva, which needs to condemn – clearly and loudly – atrocities committed in the name of Islam. In the same manner, Switzerland’s Jewish community needs to be far more critical of abusive Israeli military actions against civilians in Gaza or the building of illegal settlements, all of which contribute toward increased radicalization.
But why not a joint approach by all of Switzerland’s religious communities condemning what is unacceptable and condoning what actually contributes to the betterment of humanity, which, after all, is what Switzerland supposedly represents?