A gunman entered an Islamic center in Zurich at around 5:30 p.m. on Monday and opened fire, wounding three people. The gunman then fled and was later found dead by police.
The attack is disconcerting for Switzerland’s Muslim community, particularly after recent negative media coverage. Local media has accused certain mosques in Zurich and Geneva of allowing or even encouraging the radicalization of worshipers.
Islamophobia is not a new problem in Switzerland. In 2008, right wing populist group the Swiss People’s party led a campaign to ban minarets. The vote passed with more than 57 percent of the vote. In 2015, a burqa ban was passed in one Swiss canton, with failure to abide by the law resulting in a heavy fine.
Also yesterday, a Turkish policeman assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey and a truck plowed through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and wounding up to 50 people. These stories dominated news coverage yesterday, while the Zurich attack took the backseat. AP didn’t even run any photos of yesterday’s aftermath (hence the photo from 2009).
This can at least partially be explained by the potential geopolitical implications of the ambassador’s assassination and the death toll in Berlin. But there is also an element of anti-Muslim sentiment involved.
Monday’s assassination was carried out by a Turkish policeman who shouted “God is great” in Arabic before firing eight rounds at the ambassador. He then proceeded to deliver a speech in Turkish, saying, “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”
The identity of the Berlin truck driver is still unknown, and police say the attacker may still even be on the loose. That hasn’t stopped some conservatives or the president-elect from blaming Islam for the attack, though. President-elect Donald Trump also tweeted about a terror attack in Switzerland, but didn’t specifically comment on the nature of the attack.
Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany – and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 19, 2016
Monday’s attack in Zurich was not perpetrated by, but against, Muslims. Similar incidents in the past have also called into question the media’s coverage of hate crimes targeting Muslims.
In the United States, many Muslims decried a lack of coverage over the February 2015 execution of three Muslim students by a white man in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In October of 2016, three white men were arrested and set to face domestic terrorism charges after “allegedly plotting to bomb an apartment complex occupied by Somali immigrants in southwest Kansas,” according to the U.S. Justice Department. Around 120 Somali immigrants lived in the complex, and while the story was covered in the media it didn’t get the same foothold that a story about an attack by Muslims would get. And on Monday, a Klu Klux Klan member was sentenced to 30 years in jail for creating an X-ray device with which he planned to harm Muslims.
Media coverage of Islam was worse in 2014 than after 9/11, according to a study of 2.6 million Western news stories from 10 American, British and German outlets. The study also showed that Islam is treated differently from other religions in the media and that “a striking absence of Muslim religious leaders in news coverage” resulted in “a more negative portrayal of Islam.”
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