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Hisham Wyne Headshot

Minarets? No Thanks, We're Swiss

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57.7
percent of Swiss citizens have voted to disallow the building of minarets. Minarets
are those stern cylindrical structures intrinsic to Islamic architecture, and they
are usually attached to mosques -- places of worship where Muslims
commune with Allah, and presumably complain about Swiss intolerance.

Actually,
a correction. Not 57.7 percent of the Swiss, but 57.7 percent of those
individuals who cared enough about the issue to actually submit a proposition
on it one way or the other. In short, individuals who had a vested interest in
either standing for minarets (pun intended), or a point to make by opposing
them.

The
nay-voters may of course have had several passable reasons for opposing
minarets. As far as structures go, minarets are not very neutral – possibly
making them passé in the land of socio-political ambivalence. Perhaps it is a
gender issue, with the neo-feminists swinging the vote. Minarets
can be so patriarchal -- almost phallic, really.

Perhaps
it was concern for zoning laws. With their no-nonsense search for altitude and
carefully construed domes, there is no mistaking a minarets’ sense of physical
purpose. And if Florence can have strict zoning laws to preserve
heritage, why should those erstwhile Swiss cantonments be less deserving?

Perhaps
it was aesthetics. The Swiss felt that importing design cues from the deserts
of Saudi Arabia might instill Geneva with too abrupt a sense of surrealist
juxtaposition. Yet to balk at surrealism, in a land that invented the cuckoo
clock and juxtaposed it with expertise in dark chocolate, is a bit much.

All arguable
reasons. But the ban against minarets is for none of the above. It is rather a
shot across Muslim immigrant bows, telling them their presence is not
appreciated. The posters published by the Swiss People’s Party to popularise their stance showed a veiled woman with a backdrop of minarets, imposed on a colonized Swiss
flag.

In the context
of a Europe creeping towards old bad habits of intolerance, with a ban of veils
in France, right wing anti-immigrant parties gaining strength in Denmark and
Belgium, a xenophobic Northern League part of Berlusconi’s coalition and cartoons of questionable humour coming out of Denmark, there is a pastiche of confrontation and marginalization -- with Muslims the Continent's new
resented underclass. Fascism has found a happy home in Europe before, and there
are days when it appears contemporary Europe suffers nostalgia for that odious
house guest.

In counterpoint, several
Muslim countries have laws that make the Swiss look benign. In Saudi Arabia,
synagogues and churches are outlawed. Other faiths are banned from operating in
Islam’s birthplace. In Pakistan, the Christian minority is discriminated against constitutionally. But is Saudi Arabia, with its curious mix of suspicion,
self-pity and bellicose intolerance a country anyone would want to emulate?
Especially if one happened to be Europe’s oldest democracy?

The Swiss have
carefully folded their habit of neutrality and put it away. They have taken a
stand – finally. It is unfortunate that this newfound sense of social purpose
reeks of xenophobia and discrimination. It is a counter-revolution against a
Muslim revolution that never occurred. 
Muslims in Switzerland are mostly from secular Turkish and Bosnian
heritages and have assimilated reasonably well. They do not spontaneously combust, and
tend to avoid conflict. The Swiss system of mass democracy may be very
egalitarian. But it would be nice if the Swiss could do something constructive with it --
such as galvanizing it to crack down on those absurd bird-regurgitating clocks.