Verboten: Swiss voters approved a referendum, floated by the ultra-right-wing People's Party, to ban minarets. (rytc via flickr)
How can 59 million people be so dumb, Britain's Daily Mail famously asked in a day-after headline of the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. The Daily Mail can notch a new one for its shame gallery: How can 3 million Swiss be so bigoted? Switzerland's People's Party, a far-right, nationalist brood whose members dominate the Swiss parliament, is celebrating: its initiative to ban minarets in Switzerland passed with close to 60% of the vote today.
In late October when I first wrote about this latest expression of European Islamophobia, the sense among pollsters and analysts in Switzerland was that the referendum would fail convincingly. A commenter here predicted that, just as they had other initiatives floated by the People's Party, including a proposal to boot out of the country family members of immigrants who commit crime (a measure tailored after Nazi-era purity laws in Germany), the proposed ban on minarets would fail, too. Two weeks ago, according to the Daily Mail, a survey showed 53 per cent of Swiss saying they'd reject the initiative, which was opposed by the Swiss government and parliament.
They didn't. Call it the booth effect. Call it the shame of admitting to pollsters how one's bigotries rate. Call it what you will: the Swiss have cast one of the most shameful votes in theirs and in European history (though to be fair to European history, religious bigotry today is a veiled imitation of its bloodier past incarnations).
And now Switzerland, the country that once hosted the first Zionist Congress in Basel, must live with its once-upon-a-time image as a tolerant and enlightened country shattered by reactionary bigotry in a country whose Muslim population is barely 6% out of a total population of 7.5 million. Fewer than 20% of Switzerland's Muslims practice their faith. Switzerland's entire census of minarets adds up to two. Two minarets. One in Zurich, one in Geneva. Not that it would have, or should have, made a difference if there were 10. Or 100. Or 1,000. There is no difference between a minaret and a church steeple. Neither has a claim greater or lesser than the other on faith. Both can be equally imposing visually and off-putting, or comforting, to the ears: churches have their bells, which can be infernal even to well-mannered Christian ears, and minarets have their muezzin's chants which, for all their beauty, can get on one's nerves in the middle of a nappy afternoon.
Switzerland will have to contend with the Muslim world's reaction, too. Boycotts? Trade snubs? Less oily money circulating through Geneva's banks? Then again, Arab unity, let alone Muslim unity, are chimeras. The Swiss image will pay a price, but it'll be as largely self-inflicted and contained. Switzerland isn't alone in its reactionary mood against Muslims. It's a European trend, from Nicolas Sarkozy wanting to ban 300 or so women from wearing their burqas in France to bloodier outbursts in Germany and elsewhere.
Bruce Bawer, who three years ago published the screedish While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within (Doubleday), must be smiling. He approvingly quotes the Norwegian head of Kripos, the Norwegian FBI, saying that there was a direct link between immigrants and the country's crime rate, and that asylum seekers' fingerprints should be freely accessed by Kripos. "You realize you may be seen now as someone who hates foreigners?" he was asked in a newspaper interview. "Yes," he replied," and I have no problem with that. Someone must dare to say it out loud."
To which Bawer adds: "That was in 2003. Those willing to 'say it out loud' are still few and far between."
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- Sarkozy to Veil-Wearing Women: Stay Home
- Moroccan Woman Denied French Citizenship for Her Niqab
- Jillian York: When Arab and Muslim Stereotype Fuels Dangerous Assumptions