Swiss decision to ban minarets will accelerate tensions

Kevin Lin | Op-Ed Submission

Recently, Switzerland made the decision to ban minarets, which are towers associated with Muslim mosques. Fifty-seven percent of Switzerland’s voters, as well as 22 out of 26 cantons (the Swiss equivalent of a province) voted for the ban, which was proposed by the Swiss People’s Party. This is a major step backward for a nation that supposedly prides itself on its liberalism and commitment to secularism, and a major setback to freedom everywhere.

The argument is that Islam is a dangerous religion and is thus incompatible with the Swiss way of life. This is a huge misconception, considering that the majority of Islam is nothing like the stereotypes that right-wing groups such as the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) like to perpetuate. It is true that many Muslim nations have practices that we would consider inhumane, like genital mutilation. If Switzerland is truly concerned about these practices, however, then the Swiss government should work against them directly, rather than ban a mundane architectural feature.

Some will bring up architectural ordinance laws. Many cities ban huge neon marquees. The difference is that no single group is targeted. Why ban minarets but not church steeples? The minarets in Switzerland are also nonfunctioning; they aren’t used to call people to prayer, so it isn’t as if noise were the concern here. There are also only four minarets in all of Switzerland, so it makes you wonder why the SVP mobilized for what seems like a very innocuous thing. One might assert that these towers are a symbol of Islamization and of the supposed tyranny of that religion. The truth is that most Westerners’ conceptions of Islam are skewed. Another argument is that the design of mosques does not fit with Swiss architectural styles; the truth is that there is no single unifying Swiss aesthetic.

People will bring up oppression in certain Islamic nations as justification for the ban. Some have even championed this ban as a victory for women (keep in mind that the Swiss only began to allow women to vote in 1971). However, two wrongs do not make a right. Switzerland should not change its policies to act more like a totalitarian state; rather, the Swiss could be a model for the rest of Europe, which is dealing with a large influx of Muslim immigrants. Rather than leave Muslims disenfranchised, as this law will certainly do, the Swiss could have helped them become more integrated in society. Switzerland cannot ignore the welfare of its immigrants—this mentality is exactly what has led to recent attacks against mosques in Switzerland. If Muslim citizens feel unsafe, the ban further contributes to self-segregation and will only increase misunderstanding among the mostly Christian majority.

Another argument for the ban is that churches aren’t allowed in the Muslim world, so why should the Swiss be so generous? Well, this is flat-out wrong: Christian churches are common in many Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

If there is any doubt that this is racism, just look at the posters created by the SVP. Plastered across the nation are posters depicting a seemingly malicious and dark woman in a burqa. Previous posters by the party include one depicting white sheep kicking a black one out of Switzerland.

It seems this ban reflects Switzerland’s failure to transform from a homogeneous nation united by blood to one united by common cultural values. This method will only accelerate religious tensions, however. The European Court of Human Rights and Amnesty International have both rightly spoken out against the ban. The question is whether similar proposals could ever come about in other European nations or even the United States. This is one of the greatest challenges of democracy—preventing tyranny of the majority. There will always be groups like the SVP that are scared of change; thus, we must not be complacent if we expect our freedoms to be secure.

Kevin is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at kevinslin91@gmail.com.

  • http://twitter.com/gregorzkurwa Gregorz Kurwa

    Call it zoning laws. Now it’s all good, right?

  • Arafat
  • SAS

    The central gist of the above article is correct.

    The Swiss have just delivered a slap in the face of basic religious freedoms and they have effectively forfeited their right to lecture other countries on the importance of religious freedom. The only hope at this time is that this silly, immature decision will be overturned by the European Court of Human Rights.

    Of all the news reports about this story, relatively few have focussed on a few inconvenient truths contradicting the “intolerant” Muslims versus the enlightened Swiss. Try this – round about the same time that the Swiss were banning minarets, protesters were rioting down the streets of Geneva and vandalizing shops and cars in response to the World Trade Organization meeting there. By contrast, the people who were opposed to the minaret ban protested non violently and civilly.

    This, and the news that the largest mosque in Geneva was vandalized thrice in as many weeks suggest Swiss Muslims have responded to this most intolerant and (ahem) racist of bans in a manner that is quite restrained and dignified compared to at least some sections of Swiss society.

  • WUgrad

    “6 billion” haha, looks like I missed the “1.” that should go in front of that! Sorry.

  • WUgrad

    Swiss logic; Fail.

    How exactly does a minaret (a piece of architecture that indicates that a building is a mosque) equal the suppression of economic growth in Switzerland? India’s Muslim population makes up something like 10% of the total world population of Muslims. Yet India is presented as an example of economic growth.

    In addition, contrary to the over-the-top fear-mongering posters that were placed all over Switzerland, the Muslims of Switzerland are predominantly from other parts of Europe. Muslims from the Former Yugoslavia make up a majority of the Muslims in Switzerland, ~56%, another ~20% are from Turkey, making something like 76% of Swiss Muslims from European societies. Not places where the burqa makes up a significant part of women’s fashion. Stilettos?, perhaps. Burqa?, not so much. Uh, not to mention the fact that some of the Slavic Muslims who are in Switzerland are there because they were ethnically cleansed from their homes by their Orthodox Christian neighbors. If they get a bit touchy about restrictions against a specific part of the population because of their faith, they have a good reason. Further, it is measure of how little the Swiss know about their Muslim (I would imagine largely “invisible”) neighbors that a burga wearing woman would be an effective rhetorical tool in swaying the vote.

    For many Muslims, a minaret makes a building a mosque. To ban minarets is in essence to ban mosques. Without the minaret the building is a prayer hall. It would be like telling Christians, well you can have a room or a building to pray in, but you can’t build a church.

    The vote is Switzerland was not one of an open-minded society. It was one of a back-ward, uneducated, and xenophobic society and it is likely to cost Switzerland economic growth. Nothing like telling 6 billion plus people that they are not welcome in your country.

    Finally, It is hypocritical to say that you are against restricting people’s rights and then vote to restrict people’s rights. Voting yes was voting no to a modern, free and open-minded society.

    recommended read: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091214/lalami

    and “StopSpamming” please do exactly that.

  • http://none T.M., lic. iur.

    High !

    I am Swiss, a swiss attorney of law. I voted against the building of new minarets in Switzerland. Why? I am for shure not a rasist, not even politically right sided orientated.

    Religious Islam is a right-sided movement, many left orientated people in Switzerland, even socialistics or communists supported the banning of minarets.

    This initative (this is the correct name of this by Swiss people organized votation to change the constituion – it is not a referendum against a law by the government) was organized by the political swiss party EDU (Eidgenössische Demokratische Union, translated Swiss Democratic Union), a protestant (christian) small party in Switzerland, which is really reactionary (they are for example against sexual freedom, they tried to forbid sex between same aged teenagers in a referendum against a law in the year 1991 (this was a referendum against a governmental law and not a initiative).

    The very new constellation in the political situation is now, that two very right movements (the traditionally and religious Islam on one side and the christian religious EDU one the other side) are now fighting against each other.

    For left orientated people like me, this situation is really a satisfaction. With constellations like this, right and conservative movements are destroying each other.

    I am not against other races, I like for example Buddists or Hindus from India and black people from Africa or open minded Moslems form Turkey. I am just against conservative religious movements (even if they are christian), cutting the freedom of the people.

    The votation in Switzerland was a declaration to modernity in culture and economy. We need a open minded society to have economic growing (like we can see nowadays in China and India).

    Religious movements have to be accepted, as long they are not disturbing the world economy and the security of normal people.

    My votation for the initiative was a call for a modern, prosperitive and free Planet Earth.

    Best regards (also to Blacks, Buddists, Hindus and Moslems)

    T.M., lic. iur.
    Switzerland

  • StopSpamming

    I highly commend the Swiss.

    They have taken action when other countries are trying to compromise.

    Islam is falsely considered just a religion. It is a system, consisting of a book, the Koran, the Sunnah, the state and the Sharia. Sharia is legislative and executive in one, based on Koran and Sunnah. The state system has only one goal: dominate. It is not the Muslim’s fault as he is indoctrinated by the commands of the Koran and the interpretation which, depending on Mullah or Imam, can be benign, moderate or extreme.

    It is not a harmless cult, but a highly volatile system. For the consequences of allowing Islam to take hold of a country look at Afghanistan a decade ago. No civil rights, no freedom and laws dependant on a 1400 year old book.

    No thank you.