Damning the Swiss Minaret Ban

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In a national referendum overruling the preferences of most government officials, Switzerland has voted to ban minarets--the turrets topping mosques, from which the muezzin traditionally issue the Muslim call to prayer. Many have rushed to condemn the "surprise result," as the BBC calls it, decrying what they see as xenophobia and religious intolerance. The international furor has sparked discussions of Enlightenment values and of the ban's effect on Armenian-Turkish negotiations. So what's wrong with the ban? Here are the most compelling cases:

  • Shows Erosion, Rather than Protection, of Western Values  On the 3 Quarks Daily blog, an e-mail from Cyrus Hall proposes a provocative takeaway: the Swiss referendum, far from protecting Western values against the threat of radical Islam, "represents the continued erosion of Western values, in the U.S. and Europe, and their replacement with vapid platitudes and fear." He also explains why he finds the Swiss minaret ban far more objectionable in this regard than the French headscarf ban--the latter "was at least religion neutral."
  • Inexcusable Racism, Fascist Overtones  "Some things," write the editors of British paper the Guardian, "about the campaign [to ban minarets] were specifically Swiss, principally an Alpine distrust of outsiders which lapsed into racism." While the editors say the sentiment behind the ban may be seen all over Europe, they note the particularly xenophobic posters of the Swiss campaign, which elsewhere, they argue, might have met greater opposition. The editors also mention the red, black, and white theme of the cause, and suggest a less-than-unintentional recollection of "Nazi colours."
  • Lack of Self-Confidence  The ban, writes Rob Beschizza in a thought-provoking statement, "is a cipher for a deeper weakness: the assumed inability of Swiss culture to withstand the influence of another."
  • Lack of Trust  Swiss citizen and Islamic studies professor Tariq Ramadan can understand the Swiss traditionalist position. But while he thinks Muslims could have done more to prevent the ban, he strongly condemns the Swiss populist thinking that fails to recognize the integration of Muslim inhabitants and the common challenges facing Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbors. The most egregious failure of all, he says, comes in the Swiss majority's "lack of courage, a terrible and narrow-minded lack of trust in their new Muslim citizens."
  • Serious Consequences for Switzerland  Der Spiegel's Mathieu von Rohr enumerates the many negative effects of the ban. It will "not eliminate" the "immigration-related problems" out of which it arose, but will most certainly "damage Switzerland's credibility as a mediator in the eyes of Muslim countries, whether it be as a diplomatic representative of the US in Iran or in the conflict between Armenia and Turkey." It will also further isolate Muslims within Swiss society and further damage the image of a country already under intense scrutiny in the past year both for its treatment of Roman Polanski and for "protecting tax dodgers" with bank secrecy. Finally, the minaret ban will likely be struck down anyway by the European Court of Human Rights.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.