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 [email protected].

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