During a speech in Benghazi on Thursday, Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi characterized Switzerland as a country of “unbelievers” and “apostates.” Playing off of the recent referendum that banned minarets, he claimed that Islamic houses of worship were being destroyed in Switzerland, and before a crowd of thousands called for “a Jihad using all means.” He continued by stating that Jihad against Switzerland, Zionism, and foreign aggression was not terrorism, and that any Muslim who did business with Switzerland was an unbeliever and was taking sides against Islam.
According to Islam expert Hasni Abidi, not only is Gaddafi not qualified to pronounce on the issue of Jihad, but his words carry no weight in the Arab world. The speech was linked to the current bilateral crisis between Switzerland and Libya, which began when Gaddafi’s son Hannibal was briefly arrested in June 2008 on charges of having mistreated staff at a hotel in Geneva. Moreover, Abidi says that this call carries no danger of being echoed by Islamist groups – especially given that Libya has sided with the USA in the fight against groups like Al-Qaida. For Reinhard Schultz, the director of Islamic studies at Bern University, more than anything Gaddafi sees this issue as a question of family honor; thus his insatisfaction with Swiss responses, which so far have been at the diplomatic and political levels.