February 10th, 2010 21:13 EST
Minaret Ban is the Beginning of Something Horrible
First of all I am not defending the ban on minarets. The difference of opinion I have with you is that I don`t think the minaret ban is the beginning of something horrible. I think it was stupid and unnecessary and will be overturned in a while. My only goal was to illustrate the sometimes ridiculous cascade of events that ended up in this disaster. It is not an excuse but 2009 was annus horribilis for Switzerland. Starting with the IRS and UBS (albeit completely UBS`s fault). Kadhafi. The black list on the OECD. Not being invited to the G20 despite being the 19th strongest economy in the world while much weaker countries did get invited. The German finance minister that declared publicly that the Swiss needed to be whipped.
The list is quite long. Switzerland is a giant economically in regards to its size but has no political power whatsoever. There was no negotiating with our partners or Kadhafi. They dictated what they wanted from the Swiss. It became so clear to the Swiss for the first time last year that they became very unsettled and frustrated. Until this last vote, the Swiss never abused the direct democracy route and always voted responsibly even agreeing to raising taxes (as opposed to the Californians that happily bankrupted the state!).
If you look at the results. Roughly 50% of voters voted. 50% of people abstained because they thought the initiative would be easily rejected (as we were led to believe by poling organizations and the media) or because they thought the subject was just too ridiculous. To put that in prospective, this means that 27% of the able voting population roughly voted for the ban. If you dig deeper, you will see that a major portion of the pro-ban voters were feminist women that voted as a way to voice their displeasure with the way women are treated in the Muslim community. Another group of pro-ban voters voted to show their frustration knowing quite well that the ban would be rejected (because of the polls).
Geoff: "1)This is a Swiss internal matterStill, 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.`
Marc: Completely agree. It is your right to voice your opinion and no, it is not an internal matter. Everybody should be free to discuss the subject. Switzerland has to comply to European laws also.
Geoff: "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."
Marc: Couldn`t agree more. What the Saudis do should have no bearing on what the Swiss do.
Geoff: "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)."
Marc: With all due respect, I think we will have to agree to disagree. Minarets are there to broadcast via loudspeakers the call to prayer. It is not legal anywhere in Europe to have public loudspeakers, therefore it is purely an ornament. There are zoning laws and we all know that we cannot build whatever we want. A mezuzah on a doorpost or wearing a kippah do not interfere with any laws. A minaret in an alpine or in a protected medieval setting does interfere with often strict zoning laws. I disagree with the ban but I don`t think Muslim communities should be able to build a minaret just because it is part of their religion (which it is not). By that logic we should allow Muslims to exercise Sharia law and allow polygamy just because it is allowed by the Koran.
Geoff: "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...""
Marc: The problem is that Switzerland realistically cannot become a happy melting pot I am afraid. It is a small and densely populated country and there is not enough space for groups to live apart and mind their own business. The balance also is quite fragile. Under the surface of a happy and peaceful country are deep tensions and resentment. Swiss Germans vs. Swiss French vs. Swiss Italians. Catholics vs. Protestants. Catholic states are poorer and much more conservative than Protestant ones. Swiss Germans are more powerful economically and perceived to be arrogant etc.. The tension goes back many generations. Until 1848 the Swiss history has been a succession of internal wars and collectively we feel that it is a fragile consensus that could explode like Ireland, Lebanon, or Yugoslavia. Even in the 1970s, the French speaking part of the Bern state revolted (at times violently) against the German majority. A new state was created in 1978. The Balkan refugees that came in the 90s generated a very strong disruption to this date. Among those refugees were many thugs that pretty much control today drug trafficking and illegal activities throughout Switzerland. The Swiss then very much resent minority community leaders that lobby to disrupt the status quo. (ex: changing the curriculum in public schools, gender segregation in all children`s activities, or the lobbying of small village officials to have separate cemeteries for Muslims). It is sometimes difficult for Americans or Canadians to understand (where people immigrate for a better life and a new start). Who would have predicted that Yugoslavia would collapse in the early 90s? Switzerland is in the same category of countries that are working on the basis of a complicated negotiated consensus.
Geoff: "5) Comparisons to the Nazis, Holocaust go too far ..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."
Marc: I agree with you but in practice it is very difficult to do. The Imam in Fribourg is a sad example where political correctness and the desire to not upset the local Muslim community made it almost impossible to deal with the problem. The US has also a difficult time dealing with some religious extremists. Polygamy in Utah comes to mind or even the abuse going on in some of the Hasssidic Jewish communities. There are cells of Muslim extremism in the US. They are closely monitored by the department of homeland security but I am sure that not much is done otherwise.
Geoff: "6)Libyan President Kadhafi has ridiculed Switzerland 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?"
Marc: Completely agree and I think that the Swiss that connected the dots were wrong but it is what some did. The tension also with Kadhafi is that the Swiss Muslim organizations did not support their adopted country. They were at best indifferent and at worst openly supporting Libya. This clearly did not create goodwill. Maybe if other Muslim countries would have helped the Swiss mediate with Kadhafi we would not be in this situation.
Geoff: "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."
Marc: You do have restriction on religion (albeit maybe not as strange as the minaret ban). You cannot sacrifice animals at a mosque like it is done in Muslim countries. Zoroastrians cannot let their dead decompose in towers in western countries. Or you cannot engage in polygamy. There are some restrictions on us Jews as well that we have to live with (kosher meat has to come from France as ritual slaughtering is forbidden).
There is one good thing that came out of this vote. It is for people to have the courage to discuss openly problems that exist but were kept under cover. Muslims in Europe finally perceive the absolute necessity of having a constructive dialogue. Imams are opening their mosques to visitors and go speak on television. Politicians go meet the Muslim community. It is positive and we can talk about things that were taboo just a few months ago due to the political correctness.
Response to Geoff Dean`s 5 articles on Switzerland and the minarets
The Swiss Minaret Ban Revisited Again Once More
Switzerland Bans New Minarets and WSJ Concurs