Cowbells and Minarets

It is not merely ironic: it is simply ludicrous that an ethnic group that denies equality within its own ranks demands equal treatment and respect from a host country.

I am referring, of course, to the Swiss vote opposing the erection of more minarets, and the cry of outrage ("prejudice!, discrimination!") from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It would be easy to criticize Switzerland's chauvinism and hypocrisy. As I've noted before, the country is not a paragon of integrity. It aided the Nazis during World War Two while feigning "neutrality"; their banks have betrayed their foreign clientele by revealing their accounts; and their police recently arrested a French citizen at the request of American authorities. To say the Swiss are not trustworthy would be an understatement.

But their massive vote against minarets is a different story. Being a small, landlocked confederation of four linguistic communities (French, German, Italian and Romansh), and surrounded by five countries, Switzerland has always maintained a protectionist stance. Foreign workers were welcomed when needed, and so were foreign corporations. But full integration was never easy, or actively encouraged. The Swiss cling to what they perceive as their national identity, aware that opening the floodgates to foreigners would change that very quickly and irreversibly.

That there are already 400,000 Muslims living in Switzerland is quite amazing. It is a small proportion of Switzerland's total population (7.8 million), but they are fairly recent arrivals. They are not there to ski, or herd cows, or make cheese, or design watches. They are, for the most part (like immigrants everywhere), urban dwellers who must integrate as quickly as possible in order to build a new life and survive.

Problems arise when these immigrants continue to observe customs that are incompatible with those of their adopted country. Burqas, female excision, and honor killings, for example, are the most glaring of those inconsistencies. They are direct and vicious acts against women; they perpetuate gender discrimination; they are totally incompatible with Western ideals (and legislation) that foster equality.

And so, there is the irony: to extend equal rights to a group of people who themselves do not practice equality, neither with each other nor within their home countries. (There are no churches in Saudi Arabia, and severe restrictions on church construction in most Islamic countries. I'll wager there aren't many synagogues, either.)

Actually, there are already a few minarets in Switzerland, as well as in several other European nations. Are there any in New York? How well would minarets go over in Manhattan?

Perhaps, to prove our infinite goodwill and inexhaustible tolerance, we should allow a minaret to rise over Lincoln Center, at Sutton Place, at Yankee Stadium. Better yet -- at Rockefeller Center, where it can harmonize with the chimes of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Now that would be equality!