ban referendum wins Swiss support:
Voters in Switzerland have approved a ban on the construction of
minarets on mosques, official results show.Of those who cast votes in Sunday's poll, 57.5 per cent approved the
ban, while only four cantons....
referendum on Minaret ban receiving widespread condemnation:
The Swiss People's Party's referendum to ban the construction of
Minaret in Switzerland that won the support from majority......
Swiss accounts, Turkish minister urges Muslims
The Swiss people
have voted: They do not want minarets in their landscape. The first
reaction from the European establishment was condemnation and
indignation, and then slowly, other voices are coming to the fore.
The reality is that the Swiss have simply told the truth: If you
call a referendum and ask people whether they want places of worship
of other religions in their neighborhood, the majority is likely to
Except that it is
not places of worship per se that the Swiss have banned, and on this
they are right. A minaret is not strictly necessary in a Muslim
place of worship; a mosque without a minaret is still a mosque. The
role of the minaret is to call people to prayer and in this day and
age, technology has replaced the need for it. The minaret has thus
become an emblem of Islam, part of its architecture and history, but
you cannot argue that banning minarets stops people from practicing
their faith. If the Swiss had banned the construction of mosques or
of Muslim prayer rooms, then that would be an infringement of the
rights of Muslims to practice their faith, but that is not the case.
The Swiss have
taken a hard knock. To read some of the papers you could easily
believe that Switzerland is a land of racists who are fervently
anti-Muslim. This is not entirely fair to the Swiss.
For a start, I
would wager that if you undertook the same referendum in say France
or the Netherlands, you would get the same result. That’s the
problem with referendums: They’re democratic. Whereas local
councils, ministers, government officials, planning officers and all
the other bolts of bureaucratic decision-making have to follow
principles and procedures to justify the validity of the decisions
they make, the public at large don’t have to. Ask the man on the
street if he would like to have a symbol of another religion loom
tall over the local horizon and the knee-jerk answer is, no thanks.
Ask him whether he would like to have a mosque in his back yard and
the answer is also likely to be no thanks.
And let’s not be
hypocrites. If you held a referendum in a Muslim country asking
whether the construction of new church steeples should be permitted,
you are also likely to get an overwhelming no.
So let us not
brand this a Swiss phenomenon and let us also remember that it is
not the majority of the Swiss population that supported the ban but
the majority of those who voted, which if you do the maths comes to
30 percent of the population.
Again that is part
of the problem with holding referendums.
Only those with strong opinions for or against will make the effort
to vote. It is by its very nature a polarizing process.
What is more interesting is why the
question was asked in the first place. There are up to 400,000
Muslims in Switzerland representing roughly five percent of the
Swiss population. The early arrivals were mainly from Turkey whilst
the recent surge in Muslim migrants has come from the breakup of the
former Yugoslavia who now make up the bulk of Swiss Muslims. In
other words, Swiss Muslims blend fairly well with the rest of the
population. And yet the campaign against the construction of
minarets depicted that beloved symbol of the anti-Muslims, that
seriously scary figure: The woman in a burqa.
The French are
considering a law to ban the wearing of the burqa in France and yet
only a tiny minority of French Muslim women wear it. The Swiss have
voted an amendment to change their constitution to ban the building
of minarets and yet there are only a total of four minarets in the
This leads to at
least two conclusions. First, it is the visibility of Islam that is
at issue. A woman wearing a burqa stands out. She is immediately
recognizable as Muslim. Similarly a minaret puts a Muslim stamp on
the landscape. It states that in this land Muslims exist side by
side with the Christian majority, that they are now part of the
country’s cultural identity.
Partly this is a
legacy of secularism. There is distaste not so much for Islam as for
the idea of religion being visible and public.
message sent by Swiss voters and now repeated across Europe is one
that could be summed up by a French proverb: “To live well, live
hidden”. In other words, you can practice your religion, but only
privately and discreetly. Moreover, there is the idea that Muslims
who choose to live in a European country should adopt the ways of
the land. The onus is on them to adopt the local culture and the
fear is that the opposite will happen.
Second, the fear
is not of the moderate Muslims who have been living peacefully in
Switzerland — or France, or Britain, or Germany — but of the
influence of the extremists and the potential for, let us call them
Westernized Muslims, to turn into the burqa-wearing missile-wielding
terrorists of the Swiss posters.
undoubtedly a growing paranoia against Muslims and Islam as a
religion. There are aspects of Islam or of the way it is practiced
in certain countries that are unpalatable to Western thinking. If
you listen carefully, the message you hear is not that Muslims are
not welcome, but that a perceived movement toward a more radical
form of Islam is ringing alarm bells. The problem is that by voting
in such laws you achieve the exact opposite effect and create the
very tension that can lead to radicalization.
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