Mohamed Hamdaoui, a journalist and secular politician in Switzerland, is fighting to stop a taxpayer-funded Bible verse ad campaign in which local governments are installing religious signage in public places.
Hamdaoui would be considered a rare breed in American politics: He’s aggressively secular and equally willing to call out Islamic and Christian intrusion into government.
In this case, he’s focusing on Bible verses on public buses in the city of Biel in the canton Bern. His position doesn’t seem to be a very popular one:
Mohamed Hamdaoui, a journalist and leftwing Social Democratic Party representative for the city of Biel and the Bern cantonal parliament, is not in the habit of staying silent. He is well known in French-speaking Switzerland for his criticisms of Islamist movements, in Switzerland and elsewhere.
And it is again with secular conviction that he questions the Bible verse ad campaign on local buses in his community, pointing to the use of a taxpayer-financed public good.
The criticisms which Hamdaoui has been subjected to in return, however, focus on his Muslim background. They were sparked by a Facebook post by the Egerkingen Committee, the group behind the successful initiative against the construction of new minarets, approved by Swiss citizens in 2009.
The committee said: “the Muslim Social Democratic city councillor wants to ban Christian ads from public spaces. Recognise the signal: this is how infiltration begins.”
Keep in mind that Hamdaoui is a secularist — he doesn’t want any religion to take over his government. Yet the committee still traded in a dog whistle for a bullhorn, implying that the politician is part of some Muslim problem and that they’re infiltrating the country. The group ultimately realized that was inappropriate and apologized, but Hamdaoui has claimed defamation and incitement of racial hatred.
The government responded to Hamdaoui’s criticisms of the ads and to the attacks by those who hatefully tie his background to his policies.
As Agency C, instigator of the publicity campaign on the Biel buses, noted in a written statement to swissinfo.ch: “We denounce the hateful comments against anyone who criticises our campaigns. On the other hand, we understand that many inhabitants of our country are saddened by the declarations of this politician, because of their attachment to the Bible and the hope it offers.”
This response is inadequate for several reasons. For starters, I don’t think it goes far enough in describing how inappropriate it is to attack a Muslim politician when the issue is separation of church and state… and he’s for secularism!
Secondly, the reply justifies the ridiculous behavior by blaming the victim, essentially saying he brought it upon himself by making people “sad.”
Perhaps most importantly, the statement completely ignores the argument the politician is making: that this ad campaign violates the country’s own secular principles. I guess for the government it’s more important to provide “hope” from the Bible than to abide by the law.
Overall, it’s important that these government officials realize that not everyone gets “hope” from Bible passages. Some people are indifferent, and others are reminded of the horrific violence found within that same book. The point is that the entire country isn’t made up of Christians and that’s exactly why church and government should remain separate.