30 Nov 2009

Swiss Ban Minarets

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Poster urging an affirmative vote on the minaret ban

Switzerland amended its Constitution to prohibit minarets, the towers associated with mosques from which the muezzin issues his ululating call to prayer, reports the New York Times.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”

Of course, it was a rejection of the Muslim religion and culture.

We couldn’t, and shouldn’t, do it something like this in the United States. The American Constitutional, and philosophical, commitment to religious tolerance, state neutrality, and pluralism is too fundamental, but the European case is very different.

Even Switzerland’s embrace of Enlightenment Liberalism is much less thoroughgoing than ours and European countries have contemporary problems with Islamic influence on a much more serious scale than we do. Just imagine if all the immigrant low wage workers we had were not comparatively readily assimilable Hispanics, but were instead Muslims from North Africa or the Middle East who typically had no intention of assimilating.

That uncertain embrace of Enlightenment Liberty does inevitably leave European peoples and governments looking wrong-footed in the way they handle issues of this kind. Europeans seem to move in an unprincipled way between extremes of supine indulgence on the one hand and a readiness to apply arbitrary power on the other.


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