And yet, it targets structures used by … all Muslims.
A top Swiss official said Monday that voter approval of a ban on minarets next to mosques could be struck down in court, as critics at home and abroad swiftly condemned the vote, saying it undermined the country’s secular image…
“The ban contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights,” Zurich daily Blick cited Widmer-Schlumpf as saying. Switzerland currently presides over the European Court of Human Rights, which rules on breaches of the convention…
Arriving at a meeting of European Union justice ministers, Widmer-Schlumpf argued the vote was not “a referendum against Islam … but a vote directed against fundamentalist developments.”
She defended the referendum as being “about minarets and not, of course, about the Islamic community,” she said. “We are interested in a multi-religious society in Switzerland.”
What’s weird about this is that, for an act of religious discrimination, it’s oddly restrained. They didn’t vote to ban the construction of new mosques; they didn’t vote to demand that the four mosques in the country that already have minarets remove them. They banned construction of new minarets, presumably as a warning to Swiss Muslims that cultural assertiveness — symbolized by the height and visibility of the towers, I guess — will be challenged going forward. It’s the architectural equivalent of banning the burqa (and indeed, per the front-page screenshot, a woman in a burqa was pictured on ads supporting the referendum). But if the goal is assimilation or, at the very least, quiescence, how likely is it to achieve that goal? Says the Journal:
There is no denying the connection between radical imams and terrorist acts. Nor should anyone look away from the fact that too many European Muslims flatly reject the norms of their host countries, sometimes in ways that are criminal: honor killings, child brides and the like.
Yet banning minarets does nothing to address that fear. It merely makes it less likely that the average Swiss will be confronted by a visible symbol of Islam upon his skyline. Thus, even as a symbolic gesture, it seems to encourage a head-in-the-sand approach toward the 5% of Swiss who are Muslim. In much of Europe, this is the norm anyway, the result of political correctness and cowardice.
Rather than being a blow against that attitude, Sunday’s vote seems only to reinforce it.
I don’t think it’s a head-in-the-sand approach, I think it’s a minimalist approach: They know they’re discriminating, and in order to reconcile that as best they can with Enlightenment values, they’re going to discriminate as little and as cosmetically as possible. (Needless to say, the referendum would be grossly unconstitutional in the U.S.) LauraW and DrewM make the point at Ace’s site that this is, to some extent, a populist reaction to European bureaucrats papering over cultural differences with Muslims for fear of giving offense, but I wonder what the Swiss are looking for in concrete terms. Muslim emigration from Switzerland? If that happens, neighboring countries will move quickly to enact bans of their own. What if the Muslim population of Switzerland continues to rise? Would that warrant a ban on new mosques, or something worse? And what if jihadis decide to target Switzerland now? Does that warrant extending the ban or repealing it in fear? A lot of players are suddenly in motion here, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the discrimination doesn’t gradually get much worse.
Exit question: If you’re going to make a move like this, why not at least tie it to the sort of discrimination non-Muslims routinely experience in the Muslim world? E.g., “One new minaret will be permitted for every church built in Saudi Arabia”? At least that way the scrutiny is shared.