This weekend Switzerland voted to outlaw the building of new minarets, with twenty-two of the country’s twenty-six cantons in favour of the proposal for a ban. Given that the official line from the government and mainstream political parties attempted to encourage people to vote against the proposal, it says something that well over half the population disagreed.
Some commentators have argued that this vote compromises Switzerland’s standing as a bastion of democracy and freedom; I would argue otherwise, in that the Swiss people have finally been allowed to stand up and say that they have had enough with what they see as an increase in the physical presence of Islam, a religious ideology whose core tenets run country to the very concept of freedom and democracy. Perhaps more disconcerting for the multi-kulti dreamers however is the fact that this issue is no longer the property of fringe right-wing elements but ordinary citizens; there is the very real threat that if Switzerland can vote this way for such a proposal, the rest of Europe could quickly follow. (To think, such a proposal here in the UK could have prevented the building of the eyesore that is the minaret in Harrow – a structure that does look like an ICBM).
It has been suggested that the Swiss economy could suffer as the country has for a long time been an investment bolthole for rich Arabs; I personally would doubt this as the fat, rich sheikhs that head over to Europe to indulge in the pleasures denied in their own countries will always be the same. They may have the blustering rhetoric, but will always retreat to the safe havens of Europe to sip fine expensive whiskies, purchase their Maybach or Rolls-Royce and cavort with expensive prostitutes. It therefore follows that these individuals will always head to Switzerland to bury their ill-gotten gains, whether minarets are banned or not. So no, I don’t think the Swiss are going to be hit in the wallet in any way.
Yes, some may say that the ban on minarets reflects badly on the country’s international image, but when push comes to shove your average Swiss citizen is always going to care more about what is happening in their own street or town than how their country is viewed by a bunch of crooks in some feudalist desert Sheikhdom.
Alternatively, some politicians have trotted out the now familiar line that the Swiss have by voting in favour of this ban shown a certain “intolerance”; this rather facile argument never ceases to amaze me, in that these same politicans simply cannot see that the minaret itself is a symbol of dominance, a physical presence that is a clear and very obvious statement of intent. It crosses the line between Muslims being allowed to worship freely and the extremists among them wanting to entrench their religion and beliefs by aggressively attempting to alter the physical and cultural landscape.
People are entitled to their beliefs, and the democratic culture we have in Europe does not aim to compromise these fundamental rights: Muslims, like anyone else, are free to hold their beliefs and freely practice their religion. This of course means that they should attempt to blend their faith with the existing cultural and social norms of the countries in which they may choose to live; it certainly does not mean that they should be clinging to beliefs that run counter to the majority social values with the aim of entrenching them.
Muslims praying together is a simple matter of them respecting their faith; the building of a minaret on the other hand is a political statement that says, quite boldly, “we are here and we want you to know it”. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been among the loudest of the critics of the Swiss ban, was once heard to utter an Islamic poem which includes the lines
The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers… (Source: “Turkey’s charismatic pro-Islamic leader”, BBC News 4th November 2002)
Hmm. Not something friendly and fluffy like ice cream cones, but bayonets… It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Erdoğan is the leader of a country that is pressing very hard to become a member of the European Union.
One thing that has struck me during this debate have been the constant complaints by so-called informed commentators about the anti-minaret poster used during the campaign, in particular the way the structures have been supposedly made to look like missiles. Well, if you actually look at the very real image (illustrated above) of one of the four existing Swiss minarets, the dimensions and shape are remarkably similar. Indeed, with that almost blinding white light the real thing could very well be mistaken for an ICBM. Alternatively, we could just leave our brains in the jar on the beside table and conclude that only the truly nasty, mean-spirited, fondue-eating, cuckoo clock-making, gnome-loving Swiss could make these beautiful Islamic buildings look like horrible missiles.
It has always been wondered where Saddam Hussein’s mysterious WMDs were… Well I’ll tell you, at least one of them can be found on the mean streets of Zürich.
While the “serious” press in neighbouring Germany have either condemned the Swiss vote or have chosen to tread carefully, I think the German tabloid Bild is right on the mark:
“The minaret isn’t just the symbol of a religion but of a totally different culture. Large parts of the Islamic world don’t share our basic European values: the legacy of the Enlightenment, the equality of man and woman, the separation of church and state, a justice system independent of the Bible or the Koran and the refusal to impose one’s own beliefs on others with ‘fire and the sword.’ Another factor is likely to have influenced the Swiss vote: Nowhere is life made harder for Christians than in Islamic countries. Those who are intolerant themselves cannot expect unlimited tolerance from others.”
I don’t think I could have put it better.
Quite simply, Muslims do not need minarets to illustrate loyalty to their faith, in much the same way as they do not need forced marriages, honour killings or women wearing the niqab. The determination of some Islamic clerics to maintain these symbols can only suggest one of two things – either an inherent inferiority complex on the one hand, or a long-term desire to dominate on the other.
Right-thinking, law-abiding Muslims in Switzerland should not see the banning of minarets as a slight, but as a catalyst for them to finally cauterise the cancerous extremist strain that exists among their ranks. Swiss Muslims should be taking this opportunity to say that they, too, do not need minarets.