Swiss Islamophobia Betrays Enlightenment Ideals

Switzerland on Sunday voted by 58 percent in favor of banning minarets.

This campaign poster was banned for being racist, but apparently the goal of the poster, now that is all right.

Swissinfo surveys the headlines in Switzerland Monday morning and finds that the press there universally condemned and expressed dismay at Sunday’s vote. Editors expressed consternation at the inevitable tarnishing of Switzerland’s image and worried about the consequences. Will there be boycotts? Sanctions? Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights?

I can anticipate right now arguments to excuse this outbreak of bigotry in the Alps that will be advanced by our own fringe Right, of Neoconservatives and those who think, without daring saying it, that “white culture” is superior to all other world civilizations and deserves to dominate or wipe the others out.

The first is that it is only natural that white, Christian Europeans should be afraid of being swamped by people adhering to an alien, non-European religion.

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

The European city of Cordoba in the medieval period has been described thusly:

‘ For centuries, Cordoba used to be the jewel of Europe, which dazzled visitors from the North. Visitors marveled at what seemed to them an extraordinary general prosperity; one could travel for ten miles by the light of street lamps, and along an uninterrupted series of buildings. The city is said to have had then 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, and 900 public baths. Over the quiet Guadalquivir Arab engineers threw a great stone bridge of seventeen arches, each fifty spans in width. One of the earliest undertakings of Abd al-Rahman I was an aqueduct that brought to Cordova an abundance of fresh water for homes, gardens, fountains, and baths.’

So if the Swiss think that Islam is alien to Europe, then they are thinking of a rather small Europe, not the Europe that now actually exists. Minarets dotted Cordoba. The Arnaudia mosque in Banja Luca dates back to the 1400s; it was destroyed along with dozens of others by fanatics in the civil war that accompanied the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

As for the likely comeback,that Muslims came to Europe from the 700s of the Common Era as conquerors, unlike Christianity, actually both were conquering state religions. It was the conversion of an emperor that gave a favored position to Christianity in Europe, which was a small minority on the continent at the time. And Charlemagne forcibly imposed Christianity on the German tribes up to the Elbe. In the cases both of European Christianity and European Islam, there were many willing converts among the ordinary folk, who thrilled to itinerant preachers or beautiful chanting.

Others will allege that Muslims do not grant freedom of religion to Christians in their midst. First of all, this allegation is not true if we look at the full range of the countries where the 1.5 billion Muslims live. Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches. Does Switzerland really want to be like Saudi Arabia?

Here is a Western Christian description of the situation of Christians in Syria:

‘ In Syria, as in all other Arab countries of the Middle East except Saudi Arabia, freedom of religion is guaranteed in law . . . We should like to point out too that in Syria and in several other countries of the region, Christian churches benefit from free water and electricity supplies, are exempt from several types of tax and can seek building permission for new churches (in Syria, land for these buildings are granted by the State) or repair existing ones.

It should be noted too that there are Christian members of Parliament and of government in Syria and other countries, sometimes in a fixed number (as in Lebanon and Jordan.)

Finally, we note that a new personal statute was promulgated on 18 June 2006 for the various Christian Churches found in Syria, which purposely and verbatim repeats most of the rules of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches promulgated by Pope John Paul II. ‘

That is, in Muslim-majority Syria, the government actually grants land to Christians for the building of churches, along with free water and electricity. Christians have their own personal status legal code, straight from the Vatican. (It is because Christians have their own law in the Middle East, backed by the state, that Muslims in the West are puzzled as to why they cannot practice their personal status code.) Christians have freedom of religion, though there are sensitivities about attempts to convert others (as there are everywhere in the Middle East, including Israel). And Christians are represented in the legislature. With Switzerland’s 5 percent Muslim population, how many Muslim members of parliament does it have?

It will also be alleged that in Egypt some clergymen gave fatwas or legal opinions that building churches is a sin, and it will be argued that Christians have been attacked by Muslims in Upper Egypt.

These arguments are fallacies. You cannot compare the behavior of some Muslim fanatics in rural Egypt to the laws and ideals of the Swiss Republic. We have to look at Egyptian law and policy.

The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary, the foremost center of Sunni Muslim learning, ‘added in statements carried by Egyptian newspaper Youm al-Saba’a that Muslims can make voluntary contributions to build churches, pointing out that the church is a house for “worshipping and tolerance.” ‘ He condemned the fundamentalist Muslims for saying church-building is sinful. And Egypt has lots of churches, including new Presbyterian ones, following John Calvin who I believe lived in . . . Geneva. Aout 6 percent of the population is Christian.

The other problem with excusing Switzerland with reference to Muslims’ own imperfect adherence to human rights ideals is that two wrongs don’t make a right. The bigotted Right doesn’t even have the moral insight of kindergartners if that is the sort of argument they advance. The International Declaration of Human Rights was crafted with the participation of Pakistan, a Muslim country; the global contemporary rights regime is imperfectly adhered to by all countries– it is a claim on the world’s behavior, something we must all strive for. If the Swiss stepped back from it, they stepped back in absolute terms. It doesn’t help us get to global human rights to say that is o.k. because others are also failing to live up to the Declaration.

The other Wahhabi state besides Saudi Arabia, Qatar, has allowed the building of Christian churches. But they are not allowed to have steeples or bells. This policy is a mirror image to that of the Swiss. So Switzerland, after centuries of striving for civilization and enlightenment, has just about reached the same level of tolerance as that exhibited by a small Gulf Wahhabi country, the people of which were mostly Bedouins only a hundred years ago.

End/ (Not Continued)

30 Responses

  1. The neo-con agenda has gone international. The neo-con agenda is to instill fear in the minds of everyone towards anything and everything Islamic. Where does this neo-con agenda go next? World war against all Muslim states?

  2. I think the Swiss will be missing out. The minarets I have seen are very attractive. I can easily say they add aesthetic value to a skyline. The various calls to prayer can also be rather pleasant to listen to, although it takes some time to get used to them. A restriction on the use of electrical sound systems in minarets might be worthwhile for the purpose of reducing noise pollution, but noise pollution is an issue that should be addressed in a much more general context.

  3. It is notable that Switzerland only granted women the right to vote in 1974!!! A properly amazing number in comparison to most world countries.

  4. You've done an excellent job of presenting one side of a debate.

  5. Let me be devil’s advocate. The proponents of this proposal are racist and fascist, but organized religion is as reactionary as they are.

    Progressives should take the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.

    Virtually all religions, including Islam, impose a sexist, magical, obscurantist, and divisive worldview. They assert that there is a god who takes an active interest in human affairs to the extent of prescribing rules for human behavior, and that humans are capable of knowing the rules and intentions of this god.

    Perhaps the best evidence against the existence of such a supernatural being is the inability of its numerous proponents to agree on the identity, nature, and laws of the alleged deity.

    Freedom of thought and belief is non-negotiable, but religion should be banned from the public sector and confined to the home and the place of worship.

  6. I am a U.S. citizen, who lives and works in the United Arab Emirates. As of 2004, there were 24 Christian churches in a country of about 5 million people. 9% of the country is Christian. Land for the Christian churches was donated by the Emirates. We also have Christian cemeteries, Christian schools, and there is a hospital run by Christian missionaries. A Christian church in Dubai has over 600 members.

  7. How does one define a Minaret? Some mosques in New York City make due with a bull horn on the roof. If muslims build a 'church' and use the bell tower for the call to prayer does the steeple become a minaret?

    The Swiss have done western nations a service by giving nations like UK a reason to feel superior.

  8. This was really a stupid referendum.
    I hope that it gets over turned by the European Court of Human Rights.
    At least the referendum did not outlaw the building of a Mosque.
    Also, in the mean time, if the construction of any Mosques in Switzerland are planned, the architects can build a structure that is tall but it "not" a minaret because it is not pointed, or because it is not round, or does not meet some other criteria that a structure must have to be considered a minaret.
    Curt K.

  9. I think you give a pretty good defense of Muslims versus Christians. Of the fear that many Europeans have that somehow all Muslims seek to take over the country and make it into the Middle East. But I think that is only a secondary issue.

    The primary issue for me is that Swiss Muslims are not Saudi Muslims. They are not Qatari or Egyptian or even Turkish, although many may be of Turkish descent. They are Swiss Muslims and should not be seen as invaders from foreign lands anymore than I should be seen as a European invader to the Americas. In fact, the Swiss welcomed the Turkish labor (mostly…) whereas the Americans often did not welcome my Italian and German ancestors. The representation of Muslims living in the West as a fifth column for some bogey man version of the Middle East is the real problem.

  10. In US you can use abortion, school prayer, guns, and alike to push the society to the right. None of them would get much traction in Europe.

    But Racism seems to be the old reliable emotional issue in Europe. Just as their American counter parts, the Right is using an emotional issue to push the society to the right.

    Some day the average joe-Europe will realize that the right's ultimate goal is for the citizens to give up their social benefits in favor of "free" market economy. Immigrant issue is just a stepping stone, just as abortion and gun control has been for the right wing in US.

  11. While I appreciate your emphasis on Bosnian Islam as a completely European phenomenon, let us not forgot Kosovo, which is a predominantly Muslim nation, nor Bulgaria and Macedonia, both of which also also feature significant Muslim populations and an indigenous *European* Muslim culture that is completely unlike that of the Arabian states.

    We should also recall that Topkapi palace, seat of the Ottoman empire was located in Europe; even now, a large part of modern Turkey (officially secular but unquestionably Muslim) and its cultural capital of Istabul are all in Europe.

    Also, please note that the Bosnian city is spelled "Banja Luka" (not Banja Luca) and the mosque is spelled "Arnaudija" (not Arnaudia). Given that Bosnian uses a version of our own Latin alphabet, I think it's reasonable to retain the original spellings without resorting to phonetic transcriptions.

  12. Any reputation the Swiss may have for enlightenment is undeserved. You are probably aware of their role in financing Nazi Germany, and their extreme reluctance to settle resulting claims. See Stuart Eizenstat's book, "Imperfect Justice."

  13. The Swiss constitution has banned kosher slaughter since 1893. This hasn't stopped wealthy Jews like Marc Rich (of Clinton pardon fame)from moving there. I suspect that the ban on minarets (and Halal slaughter) will not stop wealthy Muslims from moving there either.

  14. Study the history. William Kristol's neocons supported Clinton's war on Christian Serbia, both as a means of attempting to appease Islam re "more important" Israeli interests and to break a seminal "Orthodox Christian Russo-Serbian" arch. Pat Buchanan wrote on this at the time and it includes neocons promoting KLA militants against Orthodox Serbs.

  15. The Swiss financed the Nazi war efforts. Should we expect anything less from them? But I take exception to your positive characterization of Syria's Baathist state. I'd be curious as to how many synagogues could be built in Syria these days or in most of the Muslim world, whether legally or practically.

  16. Are bell towers on churches generally allowed in the muslim world? "Nice" company the Swiss have put themselves in if they only are forbidden in a few fundamentalist states.

  17. re: Last paragraph: Just because a country comes to the same proscription, does not mean the basis for it is radical intolerance or hate, which is the case with Wahhabism.

    Swiss are about as Christian as Swedes. They may very well be classified as mostly Christian, but they're even more atheist. I might be inclined to vote against minarets for the same reason I might be inclined to vote against church bells. I think religion is a sad, and pathetic waste of the human mind. But, the way to change minds is through solid education, and encouraging people are a young age to think for themselves. Parents indoctrinating children with lies about the nature of the universe is a far bigger problem than specific construction projects.

  18. Excellent. A friend of mine sent me the link to your site after I called anyone who would vote in favour of something such as this a degenerate.

    You have just scored yourself a new reader.

    Peace,
    Canuck

  19. Well said.

    Have you found out anything about voter turnout on Sunday, however? I've heard estimates that it's as low as 15%…that doesn't make this any better, of course, but it does change the game.

  20. "Progressives should take the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons. "

    Progressives did not make lemonades out of lemons.

    Feminists in Switzerland were some of the biggest supporters of the ban on the minarets.

    link to timesonline.co.uk

    Last time I checked feminists were usually in the progressive camp and were not usually associated with the "racist and fascist" Right.

  21. Since when, may i know, was the Swiss Confederation or any other European state founded on the values of the "Englightenment" except by force and imposition. Swiss democracy predates the "Enlightenment" as the antiquity of practices such as the Landsgemeinde attests. People should come to terms with the fact that democracy has sometimes nothing to do with "human rights"- and "human rights" have never been the yardstick for the excellency of a State. Rights are useless, meaningless without Force to protect. Human rights do nothing but foster human weaknesses instead of properly treating them and finding a cure thereto- which definitely is not the task of the Statesman nor of the politician.

  22. "Among the nearly 60 Muslim-majority states in the world, only one, Saudi Arabia, forbids the building of churches."

    It's not just the building of churches. Bibles and crosses are confiscated at the border. Prosthelyzing is illegal. Christians are not allowed in person into Mecca and Medina. In sum, the holiest lands of Islam are discriminatory and bigoted and it's justification comes from the Quran and Sunnah. On top of that, it is the duty of every muslim to partake in the haj once in their lifetime, which means they travel to these prejudiced lands to affirm their prejudiced beliefs.

    As for your other assertion of tolerance in Muslim majority countries, that's like saying the South was tolerant after the passage of civil rights. There is overt discrimination and prejudice in Muslim countries with significant minorities, such as Egypt and it's Copts. In other countries the non-Mulslim minority is so small as to be insignificant(Iran,Turkey) or many have fled because of Muslim majority violence directed at them( see Lebanon).

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