Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Swiss Minaret Ban

I got back from Switzerland on Monday night so I thought it appropriate to do something on the recent Muslim Minaret controversy. The posters from the November 29th referendum were still visible over the weekend as I walked around Baden and Zurich. These images which were mounted on every street corner in Switzerland in the weeks before the referendum caused outrage among its opponents who claimed that the right wing anti immigration element in Swiss politics were using scare tactics to get their way. It is in any event a very interesting debate, one which requires further discussion.

There have been a handful of disputes in Switzerland since 2005 between Muslim groups attempting to build minarets attached to their mosques and local residents. However it soon developed into a highly charged political issue symbolising the growing concern at the high level of Muslim immigration into Switzerland. Between 2006 and 2008 two conservative parties in Switzerland, the Swiss People's Party and the Federal Democratic Union made several attempts to ban minarets in local districts or cantons. None of these attempts succeeded mainly because the cantons operated in a way that meant such a decision would be unconstitutional at a local level and could not be voted on by the people. When the parties failed at this they decided to aim higher and launched a federal initiative to amend the Swiss constitution itself by simply placing the words "The building of minarets is prohibited" into article 72. 100,000 signatures were collected which was required for a constitutional referendum and on the 29 of November it was put to the people. The campaign was contentious. The Swiss government and Parliament opposed the ban and recommended by 129 to 50 votes in spring of 2009 that the Swiss people reject the referendum. Religious organisations felt likewise as did the Trade Unions. However the people felt differently and approved the ban by %57.5.

I personally have mixed feeling about it. If I were Swiss, I found myself thinking, how would I have voted ?

My reasons in favor

1. There is an issue in Europe with our Muslim populations. It barely exists in Ireland so we could be forgiven for not noticing it but anyone who denies it outright is a fool. In recent years Muslim fanatics have murdered people like Dutch filmmaker Theogh Van Geogh for making a documentary, which he was perfectly correct in doing, on violence against women in Islam. They have issued death threats and attempted to murder many others such as Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the courageous Dutch Citizen from Somalia who has spoken out about the treatment of women in Islam. They have rioted in France and Sweden and called for all out war with Denmark over the cartoon fiasco. They have set off bombs that have killed 60 people in London and 190 in Madrid.

2. There is a minority of conservative Muslims who hate Europe, not because of Iraq, Palestine or Afghanistan but because Europe is liberal and they hate liberal societies. There is a minority within this minority who are willing to take violent action against these societies.

3. It was argued during the campaign by the Yes side that the Minaret is not that important in Islam. It is not mentioned once in the Koran. It was argued that the minaret is far more a symbol of religious-political power claim. I frankly agree. I think minarets are about Muslims making a statement saying, we are here. The sky line of a city says a lot about it. I know that Ireland's Muslim population have integrated exceptionally well into this country but I still would not like to see Muslim minarets dominate the sky line of the city. I simply think it would be inappropriate for a symbol of a foreign religion to share the stature of liberty hall (even though its an unforgivably ugly building) or the spire (even though I still don't understand its purpose).

You may wonder, well, what have points 1 & 2 got to do with Swiss minarets ? Nothing I suppose except they do indicate the greater influence of Islam in Europe and I think this is something that should be halted. Islam is not just a religion it is a political philosophy and as a result I am entitled to criticise it harshly as I would any other I disagreed with. As a political philosophy it is inherently undemocratic (if you need proof just ask yourself, why of the 40 Muslim nations in the world, are virtually none of them democratic) as it does not respect the right of the individual to be non conformist. Islam makes it clear that if there are those in society that are not sufficiently adherent to Islamic principles then this reflects bad on the society as a whole and action must be taken. In some parts of the Islamic worlds this is taken to the extreme. I am not suggesting that Europe's Muslims have such an agenda but it is conceivable that areas so heavily populated by Muslims such as in Britain and France are perceived by its inhabitants as Muslim areas entitled to be governed by Muslim laws. This could lead to an exceptionally troubling situation.

My reasons against the ban

1. There are only four minarets in Switzerland and I have heard no indication of a radical element among Swiss Muslims unlike Britain or France. In fact most Swiss Muslims are of Turkish background and not particularly devout.

2.The posters were I believe provocative. I don't like sensationalism in politics and the poster illustrating the minarets like missiles protruding through the Swiss flag were designed to be alarmist.

3. It is worth pointing out that other religious domination's opposed the minaret ban including organisations representing the Swiss Jewish community who rightly pointed out that they would be outraged if the construction of Synagogues were banned or limited.

4. The fact that minarets in Switzerland have been made illegal under the Swiss constitution strikes me as excessive. Whatever about a city council or a district implementing a ban, but for them to be made unconstitutional, something which is usually reserved for a crime or a violation of individual rights is a bit much in my opinion and I can understand why Muslims might be offended.

I also can't resist making the point that the conservative blogs have not discussed this issue. Mainly because it flies in the face of their theory that liberal and morally bankrupt Europe is allowing Muslims to literally take over their countries and are too week to do anything about it. A theory that I have long been stating is the right wing equivalent of "the world trade center was brought down by a controlled explosion". In other words, its too absurd to discuss.

If I were Swiss I believe I would have voted against the ban because my conscience would not have allowed me to vote for a referendum which makes a religious symbol unconstitutional even though I must confess, I liked the result of the referendum. Confused ? You should be. The truth is if I were Swiss I would be resisting the building of minarets and perhaps supporting action at a local level. But a constitutional change is excessive, particularly given the few reported problems in Switzerland.