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Published:February 1st, 2010 09:56 EST
Swiss Minaret Ban

The Swiss Minaret Ban Revisited Again Once More

By Geoff Dean

 I am greatly indebted to those who have responded to my articles on the Swiss minaret ban for taking the time to read what I have written and for taking me to task on some factual errors. I have nothing but respect for each and everyone of those who joined this debate. I would like to respond briefly to some of the points that have been raised in defense of the ban or at least, in criticism of my "over the top" opposition to the ban.

Swiss Minaret Ban

 1) This is a Swiss internal matter

 I am not Swiss, have only been there once, and am utter unqualified to judge Swiss culture. America has plenty to be ashamed of and I have no business lecturing other countries on humar rights and religious freedom. Guilty as charged.

 Still, I feel I have no choice but to condemn this ban because I respect Switzerland. Switzerland is not Myanmar or Zimbabwe; it is a modern, free, democratic society. All the more it should defend the rights of all citizens to religious freedom. I do not hesitate to condemn America (Guantanamo, Al Gharib, drone attacks on Afghan and Pakistani civilians, etc.) or any other nation. But my own country`s many weaknesses do not disqualify me from criticizing others, since this is a question of human rights and first and foremost, I am a human.

2) The minaret ban is better than the Saudi ban on churches

 This line of reasoning first appeared in the Wall Street Journal and many used it in response to my articles. Saudi Arabia totally bans churches; Switzerland only minarets, goes the logic. So Switzerland is not so bad.

 Sure, there are many much worse countries on the issue of religious freedom than Switzerland. However, saying that Switzerland is freer than Saudi Arabia or North Korea or China is surely not saying much. I have way too much respect for Switzerland to believe that the Swiss should be satisfied with being better than the worst, rather than being among the best defenders of religious freedom.

3) Minarets are "optional"

 Many have suggested that minarets are ornamental and not required. I am not a Muslim so I can`t comment on that in detail. However, I can say and have said that that should be left up to the believers themselves. When non-Muslims declare this or that about the value of minarets, it seems to me, amazingly condescending. I am a Jew and would not appreciate someone telling me that wearing a kippah, displaying the Torah, or putting a mezuzah at my doorway are "ornamental" and "optional". That is my choice and mine alone!

 There are, certainly, mosques without minarets, just as there are churches without crosses and steeples. The Al Asqa mosgue in Jerusalem, indeed, is one. But that is comparing apples and oranges since the Muslim culture of Palestinians and the Kurdish inhabitants of Switzerland are totally dissimilar. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes of all ban supporters is to lump all Muslims (one-fifth of humanity) together when they are as diverse as say a Russian Orthodox believer in Moscow, a fiery Protestant in Northern Ireland, and a liberation theologian in Central America (all Christians).

4) Immigrants should assimilate

 This is a hard issue for every country, obviously. Still, one form of assimilation to Swiss culture, I should think, is to practice your religion or lack thereof freely and grant others the same rights. If building a minaret means refusing to integrate into Swiss society, surely building a synagogue means the same. And how much of it is "Muslims refusing to integrate" and how much of it is "Swiss society refusing to accept Muslims". The ban suggests that the second is at least as strong as the first.

 "22% of Swiss society is foreign", it was pointed out by Marc, in his excellent response. That is not an easy situation for any nation but the Swiss should be able to handle it and better. Let them be an example to the world of how a diverse society can accept its diversity and find harmony. That will never happen as long as this ban remains in place.

5) Comparisons to the Nazis, Holocaust go too far

 Yes, they do. That was the intention. The SVP is not Hilter reincarnated. Banning minarets is not comparable in any way to the Holocaust. My point was and remains that things must be nipped in the bud. When Hitler first started out on his persecutions, they were relatively trifling things. Jews were banned from public office and certain occupations. It was absolutely wrong but people didn`t make a move to stop it. As we all know, Hitler didn`t stop there.

 The SVP surely has no intention of stopping at banning minarets. If they are not nipped in the bud, Switzerland will become a more and more unwelcoming place for Muslims and foreigners (Yes, even for Jews).

 Yes, the minaret ban idea did not start out with the SVP. Yes, there were and are radical Muslim groups like the Gray Wolves. Punish those groups and those imams who are extremists but not all Muslims, the vast majority of whom, seek only to live peacefully in Switzerland.

6)Libyan President Kadhafi has ridiculed Switzerland

 He took two Swiss businessmen hostage and called for Switzerland to be partitioned while ridiculing the Swiss president. He is a buffoon at best and a monstrous dictator at worst.

 Still, how many Libyan Muslims are there in Switzerland? It is that same mistake of lumping all Muslims together. The offensive behavior of one Muslim imputed to all. And, as I said, Muslims make up one-fifth of the world`s population. There are sure to be some bad apples. Hitler was a Christian as were most Nazis. The evil regime in Myanmar is largely Buddhist. Are all practicioners of these religions to be shunned and punished?

7)This is only about Muslims

 I said "I don`t want to be overly melodramatic but everyone`s freedom of worship has been threatened , not just Muslims." I stand by this one. As a human. And especially as a Jew. When people restrict religious freedom in any country under any pretext, everyone is hurt. That is Judaism 101. I believe. Maimonides said so, as did Heschel, as did just about everyone. I am not a Muslim and have no intention of becoming one but I must defend their rights as my own or I have no right to have any rights.

Further responses are most welcome.