Libyan-Swiss Row Escalates as Al-Gaddafi Calls for “Jihad”

Elijah Jordan Turner - TCS Reporter 4 March 2010

Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi last Thursday called for a “jihad” against Switzerland, in the latest round of a dispute that continues to test the European country’s commitment to neutrality in international affairs.

“Any Muslim in any part of the world who works with Switzerland is an apostate, is against Muhammad, God, and the Qur’an,” said Gaddafi, while speaking at a function celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

Referring to the recent ban on minarets in Switzerland, he added, “Those who destroy God’s mosques deserve to be attacked through jihad, and if Switzerland was on our borders, we would fight it.”

The Swiss government has been reluctant to respond to the remarks, but the United Nations Office at Geneva quickly issued a statement condemning them as “inadmissible in international relations.”

Interaction between the two countries first began to heat up in July 2008, when Gaddafi’s son Hannibal and his wife were arrested in Geneva. Although they were released after two days, the Libyan government responded with economic and diplomatic sanctions, cutting off oil shipments and expelling Swiss officials from the country.

At the same time, two Swiss businessmen, one of whom remains imprisoned in Libya, were detained on charges of visa irregularities, although Libya has denied the detainments were related to Hannibal’s arrest.

Aiming to ease tensions between the two nations, then-Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, despite opposition back at home, visited Tripoli last August to issue a formal apology.

But the latest strain in Libyan-Swiss relations stems from a decision in February to ban 188 Libyan officials from Switzerland and, consequently, the rest of the Schengen Area.

Libya retaliated by barring all citizens of the 25 states in the Schengen Area from entering the country, a move that stymied trade between Europe and the oil-rich Libya and caused European travellers to suddenly be turned away at the airport in Tripoli.

Many political commentators initially speculated that the ban would quickly be reversed, but Gaddafi has yet to do so, having received a fair amount of support from Libyans pleased to see their leader defiant against a European power. Hundreds of students gathered outside the Swiss Embassy in Tripoli on Monday to support their leader.

Still, most believe this latest twist, like so many others in this row, will not go far beyond bravado. Gaddafi similarly made headlines last July at the G8 Summit for suggesting that Switzerland be dissolved, with its territory split between France, Germany, and Italy. Now, with such a reputation for eccentricity, Gaddafi is unlikely to galvanize Muslims into action.

” did not shock us, as he often says such nonsense,” said Yasar Ozdemir, member of the Swiss Federation of Muslim Associations, when speaking to AFP.

Elijah Jordan Turner – TCS Reporter