Turkey angry after Swiss tout ‘kebab ban’

Turkish kebab chefs are up in arms after they misunderstood a spoof campaign to ban the kebab in Switzerland.

Turkey angry after Swiss tout ‘kebab ban’
Is banning the burqa as 'foolish' as banning the kebab? Photo: Jason Ramos

A website announcing the popular initiative ‘Yes to a kebab ban’ appeared in Switzerland a fortnight ago calling for Switzerland to ban the eating of kebabs in public places.

Launched by Swiss independent campaigner Daniel Graf, the initiative is actually a satirical comment on Switzerland’s move towards a nationwide ban on wearing the burqa in public – approved by the lower house of parliament on Wednesday.

But many in Turkey missed the point.

On Monday Turkish newspaper The Daily Sabah said kebab masters in the country were cross about the “illogical” campaign.

Mehmet Kaçak, the president of a restaurant association in the country, told a Turkish news agency that the Swiss government should oppose such a campaign.

Under the same logic, Turkey should ban pizza and all other fast foods that did not originate in the country, he said.

Speaking to The Local on Thursday, Graf said he didn’t actually want to ban the kebab, but launched the campaign to make a serious point about Switzerland’s proposed burqa ban, which he feels is a “very stupid idea”.

It’s currently very difficult to have a rational discussion about the burqa ban because it’s a “complicated” issue whose political motivations are masked by other things, he feels.

“If you start to talk about the burqa, it’s about women’s rights, security, religion, all that stuff, and you can’t make the argument that it’s foolish and there’s a political strategy behind it,” he said, saying that strategy “is to discriminate [against] the Muslim population in Switzerland”.

“The people behind it… they are a right-wing, often racist party and they have a clear aim. I fear that it will disrupt our society, like in other countries, like in France. So that’s why we need to start the debate from another angle and make it clear that it’s a very stupid idea.”

“So I started the idea of this kebab ban because if you say ‘hey, let’s collect signatures for a kebab ban everyone says ‘this is a very stupid idea, you are fools’. So then you can say ‘yes ok, maybe you are right, but there is another thing which sounds rather similar, the burqa ban, it’s also foolish’.”

Buoyed by the attention garnered by his ‘kebab ban’, Graf and his team intend to hit the streets to explain to people why they are doing it.

“You can’t control [the burqa ban debate] with argument and sense, that’s why we need a debate that connects with people in their daily life and the kebab is in daily life so it works very well and people start to discuss it.”

Kebabs are hugely popular in Switzerland, with many people eating them for lunch. In contrast, it’s “very rare” to see burqas in the alpine country, feels Graf.

If Graf’s idea provokes discussion as intended, he won’t leave it there. So it’s not out of the question that the campaign could gather the 100,000 signatures required to take the initiative to a national referendum.

“Before it was an idea which was tested publicly, and now because we have so much positive response it makes sense to go on,” he told The Local.

But first, he intends to “really explain the idea” to Turkey.

“We need Turkish immigrants in our committee,” he added. “We want to show that we are not a right-wing committee with just white males.”

On Wednesday the lower house of parliament narrowly approved a bill to ban the burqa across Switzerland.

The bill was submitted by Walter Wobmann of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and mirrors a ban already in force in the canton of Ticino which forbids women from wearing the burqa or niqab in public.

However the issue still needs to be debated further and will probably be put to a national referendum before it can be made law.