Monday, November 30, 2009

Swiss Ban Minarets

I can't believe the Swiss actually banned minarets (a spire on a mosque traditionally used to call the faithful to prayer). But as the Christian Science Monitor aptly puts it, the "Swiss have just approved a constitutional change that won't do anything to solve its nonexistent problem of runaway Islamic extremism."

Well, they have more than solved a nonexistent problem. They have helped create several.

For one, the Swiss Muslim community was already respectful of their non-Muslim milieu. After all, there are only 4 minarets in the entire country, servicing approximately 400,000 Muslims. That's one minaret for 100,000 people.

But more importantly, none of the minarets actually broadcast the call to prayer. In other words, there is no public nuisance argument here about noise pollution nor any question of religious invasion of public space. Rather, the Swiss banned minarets because they object to their very physical existence. It's state-sanctioned religious persecution. And it's repugnant, whether the referendum passed democratically or not.

Furthermore, there are very real costs to this decision. One, the Swiss-Muslim community, if they are not alienated already, will be so now. Two, it fuels the Clash of Civilizations between Islam and the West, a self-fulfilling prophecy that only persists out of intellectual laziness and/or religious prejudice. Three, it diminishes the West's ability to criticize other governments for their civil and human rights abuses. After all, how can we lecture Saudi Arabia for its restrictions on churches when Switzerland holds a similar policy against minarets?

In the end, a ban on minarets is no different than a ban on church bell towers. Persecution is persecution, regardless of the victim.

But more than anything else, I'm just disappointed. It's one thing when autocratic regimes spew intolerance. It's quite another when a liberal democracy - and one famed for its pacifism no less - can enact a law so illiberal and so intolerant. Let's hope the international outcry continues and forces them to reconsider this shameful legislation.

PS Things are a bit hectic at work, so posts will be intermittent (or non-existent) for the next week or so. But I'll be back posting daily soon enough.

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