Banning Minarets: A Dangerous Precedent and Sign

In case you happen to live in under an abode commonly referred to as a “rock” then you are well aware of a major vote which took place yesterday in Switzerland. Following months of controversial campaigning, a strong 57% of Swiss voted to ban Muslims from constructing minarets on their mosques. The vote comes amidst a campaign which claimed that minarets were representative of the slow domination of European society by militant Islam.

Yes. Architectural formations are also a threat to freedom, apparently.

Interestingly enough, the government itself is against the ban. Given the direct democratic nature of the country (here’s a great post from Kabobfest about that), however, it is forced to respect the decision of 57% of the Swiss who agree with the conservative nationalist Swiss People’s Party that minarets are certainly a sign of the impending Islamist takeover.

See? Tyranny of the majority in practice! In. Freaking. Practice.  

This is why I don’t vote.

I’m not going to lie. I’m concerned. I’m extremely concerned. This recent vote falls within the growing trend around an increasingly antagonistic and laced with irrational fear European (particularly Northern European) attitude towards immigrants (i.e. primarily Muslims and Arabs), a trend noted earlier this year in the EU parliament elections about which I wrote in a Kabobfest post as well as the French discussion on the banning of a rarely-worn burqa amongst several other instances.

What worries me in particular about this vote is the precedent it sets and the ridiculous characterization of militancy it subscribes to something which is in fact rather innocent.

Defenders of the ban claim that it it not something which seeks to limit Muslims from practicing their religion, but rather is meant to control the violent political imagery which is associated with it. How is a minaret, an architectural formation found upon the top of a dome of a mosque (four in total in Switzerland and yes they’ll be allowed to keep their precious minarets) a symbol of militantism? And if something as harmless as a minaret can be seen as militant, what about the hijab? The length of beard? Non-Western Clothing worn outside? Non-English/German/French words scrawled on store signs? Halaal food stores? Where is the line drawn? What is the criteria set forth to define the militancy of objects? Is it possible for something to be a representation of Islam without being seen as a political statement nowadays?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This vote was not meant to push back any threat. It was meant to assert hegemony over a large minority population which makes up the second largest religion in the country. This vote was meant to intimidate this population, amongst others, to show them who is in fact in charge. A friend on Twitter perhaps said it well when he said: “if it was in a non-Western country, there would be furore. They make racism seem so “civilized” with a referendum.”

This in turn brings up the point of relativism which is always brought up in light of such occurrences.  I am well aware of the oppression which exists in Arab and Muslim countries of minority populations; it is undoubtedly ridiculous and unjust. But oppression and tyranny are not about comparison and it’s time we move beyond this argument to which conversation always seems to be reduced. Too many supporters of the ban are resorting to the age-old “well in Muslim countries…” line. Get over it, move on.

(Un)Fortunately, it’s not over. This ban has not only prompted voices of support from various world leaders and officials, it has also merited some condemnations – perhaps the biggest being from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir who believes that this is in violation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which the Swiss had ratified. There is also talk about the issue being taken to the European Court of Human Rights, by the Swiss Green Party and other groups who wish to appeal the ban.

But reversing or appealing the law should not be the primary concern at this point. That 57% should be. How is it that 57% of the Swiss population agrees that minarets (again, existent on four mosques in total across the country) are a symbol of militancy? How is it that 57% of the Swiss population see their Muslim countrymen and women as potential militants slowly taking over their country, their continent, their way of life and religion? What does this say not only about the direction the Swiss have decided to take their country but also the direction Europe itself is going? The problem here is far bigger than a ban. It’s a lot bigger than architectural formations. It’s about an irrationality which has seemingly gripped millions in Europe; low ethnic-European birth rates and increasing immigration can only ever equal the complete destruction of Europe. Eurabia is on the horizons. And we should be concerned about where this rationalized irrationality can take us. What else will be banned? What else will become a threat? What else will symbolize militancy?

Additionally, what effect does this have on the Muslim population of Switzerland? Of Europe? I mean, what better to “radicalize” individuals than to assert racist hegemony and marginalize them, right? Awesome.

Until things sort themselves out – if they ever do and whatever that means – I’m going to avoid chocolates, army knives, banks and neutrality for awhile.

6 thoughts on “Banning Minarets: A Dangerous Precedent and Sign

  1. Completely agreed, Sana. (eww, this feels so wrong.) A society that labels harmless minarets as dangerous is a deeply insecure one. Yes, Muslims in Europe and radicalization among them is a big problem–and one that Europe’s Muslims must address, instead of crying victim. But for a society like Switzerland–one that has yet to experience a terrorist attack and has had little Muslim extremism–this is an unwarranted step. Like anti-semitism, Islamophobia reveals more about the host society’s insecurities than it does about the Other. Of course, I am not in anyway implying that what is happening today mimics the horrors that the Jewish people suffered. I am merely saying this follows that same pattern of scapegoating.

    Switzerland makes Britain look like a bastion of freedom. Even though Great Britain has actual extremists and has suffered terrorist attacks, it has–notwithstanding the election of the BNP to the EU parliament–remained pretty well committed to freedom of religion.

  2. For the record, it wasn’t 57% of Switzerland; it was 57% of the 55% of Switzerland that voted, so about 25% in total (but that’s just the engineer in me being picky).

    Having said that, I agree with your entire piece, save one paragraph. Specifically:

    Too many supporters of the ban are resorting to the age-old “well in Muslim countries…” line. Get over it, move on.

    If those concerned about the oppression of religious minorities in Arab and/or Muslim countries should just “get over it, move on”, then you should do the same about the oppression of Muslims minorities in Europe (which you won’t, and nor should you).

    We shouldn’t say “they do it in the Arab world, so it’s acceptable just desserts in Switzerland”. We should say “this type of discrimination is wrong when it’s done in the Arab world, and it’s wrong when it’s done in Europe – and two wrongs don’t make a right”. Being able to equate the two forms – and they certainly should be equated – shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore them, it should be a imperative to heap scorn upon both forms, and a clarion call to use all resources available (moral, political, multilateral, etc.) to end discrimination like this everywhere it festers, be that in Geneva, Bradford, or Riyadh.

  3. Whatever. I’m an Arts students. We manipulate numbers to support our points. FTW!

    To clarify: I’m not saying people get over the oppression – I’m saying get over using that as a comparison. It’s not an argument and all it does it cheapen other forms of oppression and tyranny. Hence why I do say that these two are not about comparison. I just think that if we’re talking about oppression of Muslims in Geneva than why do we have to bring up oppression of the Copts in Egypt? Both are equally important and deplorable – but what does the comparison achieve? What does the Egyptian government have to do with Switzerland?

  4. I just think that if we’re talking about oppression of Muslims in Geneva then* why do we have to bring up oppression of the Copts in Egypt?

    Ew, nasty typo.

  5. I don’t think we should just be talking about religious oppression in Switzerland – I think we should be talking about the growing problem of religious oppression everywhere, and how Switzerland is one more place falling victim to it.

    Restricting our (and I use the Royal “we” here) attention and anger to Geneva make it very easy to draw the conclusion that if it gets fixed there, then the problem of religious discrimination in major countries is well and fixed – which it isn’t. Switzerland is one medium-sized front in the battle against religious intolerance; it is most certainly not the whole war, and I worry its novelty makes it easy to focus on and lose sight of the forest for the trees.

  6. Well, religious oppression isn’t unfortunately something new.It’s just ‘growing’ relatively given the level of globalization we have in comparison to, say, a hundred or so years ago. I completely agree with you that all oppression must be addressed (MLK comes to mind: any injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere).
    At the same time, I think particulars are important – especially when they are emerging trends of oppression that can be halted before they worsen. The Minaret issue is not about Switzerland, but a growing trend within Europe. It’s most relevant to me because I am a Westerner and I am a Muslim. I am biased in two ways when it comes to this issue. But that’s just me, hence my concentration on the issue. What happens there effects me because I live in society with a similar make up and ideas.
    But you’re right. Like I said, I’m biased in my choice of discussion.

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