Switzerland made the news again for the wrong reason. Rightwing leaders of the Central Democratic Union launched a popular initiative fora constitutional ban on minarets, the domed-topped spires on mosques, theIslamic architectural equivalent to the Christian steeple. On November 29th, the ban passed with an alarming, 57.5 % percent of the vote. Only 4 cantons, the French speaking ones, voted against it.
Xenophobic, racist, paranoid? C’mon where is the threat?
Muslims represent 5% of the country and only FOUR minarets exist in Switzerland. So much for the image of peaceful, bucolic alpine country where cow bells ring.
« Switzerland is not racist. It is afraid, »
Youssef Ibram, the imam of the Geneva mosque insists. « We have failed to communicate that terrorism is not part of the Koran. If there are Muslims who have given Islam a negative image here or elsewhere, it should not be generalized to the entire Muslim community. »
Though Switzerland was widely criticized across the continent, a Euronews poll found that if a similar vote were taken in other countries the outcome would be the same with 69% of Europeans banning minarets.
To ban one’s religion, in effect, forbid one’s way of life, is repression, not dialogue. It is a sad reflection of the world’s only true direct democracy. Rather than making the country more secure, it fuels the extremists.
I, too, am afraid, but not of Muslims. I fear radicals in any religion or government.
Prejudice is always based on fear and ignorance. We fear most that which we do not understand. If we are truly a democratic society, freedom of speech and religion are non-negotiable human rights and to tamper with this by changing the constitution in a country that prides itself on multiculturalism is abominable.
An Al Jazeera editorialist insists that a country that prides itself on tolerance and humanitarian traditions, and values civil liberties should practice what it preaches. How can a democratic society hold a popular vote on a matter regarded as integral to freedom and rights?
The only ones applauding the Swiss action are the right wing extremists and neo Nazis throughout Europe. Rabbis condemn the decision citing a Swiss law passed a hundred years ago that banned Jewish practices in attempt to drive out the Jewish population. According to Amnesty International spokesman, Manon Schick, the ban violates international law guaranteeing religious freedom.
When my children studying in the States heard about the vote, they were outraged. I still
remember, when as 6th grader my son visited temples, churches and mosques in Geneva and claimed, « the mosque was the most welcoming. » Our daughter, voicing a sentiment heard throughout the Swiss international community, insists « It is unfathomable that issue ever came to vote in the first place. »
That it passed reflects a greater underlying problem within Switzerland and Europe. Over 30 million Muslims make up a part of Europe’s social fabric. May the church bells and minarets round the world, calls us all not only to worship the heavenly powers, but also to commune together with
mortals here on earth before it is too late.