Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss ban mosque minarets in surprise vote

Much more so than in the United States, there seems to be popular hatred among ordinary Europeans for Islam.
Anxieties about growing Muslim minorities have rippled across Europe in recent years, leading to legal changes in some countries. There have been French moves to ban the full-length body covering known as the burqa. Some German states have introduced bans on head scarves for Muslim women teaching in public schools. Mosques and minaret construction projects in Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia have been met by protests.

The big news out of Switzerland is part of this larger trend:
GENEVA, Switzerland (AP) Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets on Sunday, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

The country's four standing minarets, which won't be affected by the ban, do not traditionally broadcast the call to prayer outside their own buildings.

Even though the prejudice is against a particular religion, I doubt the most prejudiced Europeans are people who themselves are religious*. I think this is a backlash coming from secular people (who may be nominally Christian, but likely have no religious beliefs) who feel threatened by the growth of a new and powerful and seemingly fanatical religious force. Unlike bigotry of previous centuries, where the bigots hated other religions because the other religions believed in the wrong god or in the wrong Bible or the wrong interpretation of the same Bible, this prejudice is against Islam, because many followers of that religion are perceived to be fanatic believers in their religion. The Swiss and other Europeans who don't like Muslims would dislike them less if the Muslims were more like they tend to be, atheistic or agnostic.
Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland's international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

It is biased. It is anti-Islamic. It is intolerant. Of course, Muslims as a rule are terribly intolerant of others. So it's hard for Muslims to win on calling out the intolerance card.

Whatever the response is among Muslims, I strongly doubt this stupid ban will hurt the Swiss banks or the Swiss economy. After a round of condemnations by the usual suspects, investors will put their money in Switzerland for the same reasons they do now -- it's a safe place to invest.
The referendum by the nationalist Swiss People's Party labeled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. The initiative was approved 57.5 to 42.5 percent by some 2.67 million voters. Only four of the 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, granting the double approval that makes it part of the Swiss constitution.

This is yet more proof of why direct democracy is a disaster; and why I am glad we have freedom of religion built into our Constitution. Majorities should not be able to deny minorities their rights in this fashion.

The only practical reason to ban a minaret would be if the muezzin who calls Muslims to prayer is making a racket so loud everyone else is bothered by it. However, that was not the case here. Moreover, a loud muezzin can be stifled by simple noise ordinances.
"The minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls," the sponsors said. They said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared mosques to Islam's military barracks and called "the minarets our bayonets." Erdogan made the comment in citing an Islamic poem many years before he became prime minister.

Muslims in the U.S. are relatively well integrated in society. They need to make a better effort in Europe to integrate and adapt to the cultures of the countries they live in, if they want to stay.
"The sponsors of the ban have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way," said Taner Hatipoglu, president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Zurich. "Muslims indeed will not feel safe anymore."

If the Swiss fear there are too many Muslims in their country, esp. Muslims who are not integrating, then they ought to change their immigration policies and make a better effort at integrating their immigrants.
The sponsors of the initiative provoked complaints of bias from local officials and human-rights group with campaign posters that showed minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag next to a fully veiled woman. Backers said the growing Muslim population was straining the country "because Muslims don't just practice religion."

The People's Party has campaigned mainly unsuccessfully in previous years against immigrants with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports.

This is yet another reason why moderate Muslims need to distinguish themselves from radical Muslims by vociferously attacking the rhetoric and behavior of radical Muslims. Moderates are paying the price, wrongly, for the atrocious behavior of radicals.

*Note: After I published this blog entry, I read Nate Silver's take on the story on his blog, Nate studied the demographic data in Switzerland and found my supposition about just which people in Switzerland were the most anti-Islamic was wrong. He writes, "If we break the results of the referendum down by canton (province) and compare them against the number of nonreligious people in that region, we find a fairly strong relationship. The more religious the region, the more likely it was to support the ban. ... But it appears at first glance that this indeed reflects some degree of fear, dislike, or anxiety about Muslims -- and by Christians. In some ways, then, the analogy to American politics holds up, in which the religious right -- fairly or not -- is associated with intolerance, and sometimes xenophobia."

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