Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ich stelle ein Minarett auf mein Hausdach

Nothing is worse than active ignorance.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My friend Jim moved to Switzerland a while back, to live with his girlfriend Olivia. They're getting married in February.

But today she, who is usually so proud of her country, was full of disgust. For the Swiss people have spoken, and the building of minarets is to be outlawed.

In a country with around 400,00 Muslims, where Islam is the second largest religion, there are currently four mosques sporting minarets. Four. One minaret per hundred thousand worshippers. That's one seriously complicated rota system they must have going there.

Martin Baltisser, general secretart of the Swiss People's Party (SVP) which first pushed the referendum, told the BBC: "This was a vote against minarets as symbols of Islamic power." Which is a very serious issue, I'm sure you'll all agree. But even the BBC had such difficultly finding a picture of a Swiss minaret to accompany their story that the image they eventually put on the BBC newspage has a church spire in the background. I'd like to think that this is some subtle and brilliant piece of satire on the part of the BBC's image sourcing department, but really, is there any more obvious a metaphor than that?

It's not unlike the apocryphal tale of an American woodsman, living in a cabin on the side of a mountain, utterly alone. One day he looks out, sees a faint puff of smoke rising from the next valley over. he shakes his head, mutters something about the neighbourhood getting too crowded, and starts to pack.

Of course, for all the mockery, this sort of thing is worrying when considered in the context of the French headscarf ban and other anti-Islamic legislation. Never mind that the United Nations Human Rights Committee said Switzerland would violate international law if it bans minarets, or that the Swiss justice minister has said "a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies". Legal issues aside, the damage this sort of thing does - not just to Switzerland's image but to that of the entire western world - is incalculable.

It's an act of collective stupidity about on a par with...well, I was going to say voting for Hitler but even that probably seemed like a good idea at the time... Voting Bush in for a second term, maybe. I can't think of anything more likely to alienate the Islamic world and turn moderate young muslims into potential extremists. You may as well start publishing obscene cartoons of Muhammed on state documentation and be done with it.

Tolerance breeds understanding. Understanding breeds respect. Respect breeds harmony. Don't people get that? Or are they so terrified of anything 'alien' that they'll lash blindly out and create the very enemy they fear. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy - when the first suicide bomber hits the Geneva underground, all those people who voted against 'Islamisation' will turn to their similarly ignorant friends and say 'I told you we couldn't trust them.'

There's hope, though. A referendum isn't the same as writing the ban into law, so pressure groups and human rights organisations have time to start building opposition. And Facebook already has a protest group suggesting Swiss residents start erecting minarets on their rooftops. Like with the Trafigura incident, perhaps new media can make a difference, exert some pressure and change the shape of the skyline?


Leo said...

It's all about the fear, isn't it. The fear of change, of the new. Especially of certain religions with links to Arab people because quite clearly they are all terrorists, aren't they? I mean, as a primary school teacher, that's definitely the message I'm sending out to the new generation!!
It's sad really. But how is it different to the ways of France, where headscarves and cruifixes are not allowed to be worn. Whatever happened to the right to express oneself? That seems to have died.
Surely these days, people can choose where to live, what to believe and where to worship. As long as they are respectful of others.
What a time to live in! 'Twasn't that long ago, when people couldn't travel further than the village centre.
What opportunites surround us. And how we are curtailed.

Ian said...

The handy thing about Switzerland's Direct Democracy is that even if it does become law, another quick referendum can quickly chuck it back out again if it gets enough support.

But still, Minarets? Really? That's just bizarre.

Jim said...

Very Topical, and i'm in someone's Blog post! yay!

Anyway, seriousness.

The SVP makes the BNP look liberal, but the problem is that they have a lot of support, most of Olivias facebook friends were all on yesterday saying how embarrassing it is to be Swiss, and she feels ashamed to be Swiss, which isn't fair at all. She's taken this very personally, but it's not her fault 58% of Swiss are idiots!

It's a basic human right, to believe what you like, be respectful to others beliefs and to get on with life. But it's just not happening, which is very sad.

I'm going to go to the supermarket, see if they have any BYO Minarett kits.