A Vote for Intolerance
Published: November 30, 2009
Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measure.
Under Switzerland’s system of direct rule, the referendum is binding.Switzerland’s 400,000 or so Muslims, most of whom come from Kosovo andTurkey, are legally barred from building minarets as of now. We can only hope that the ban is quickly challenged, and that the Swiss courts will find a way to get rid of it.
But the vote also carries a strong and urgent message for all Europe, and for all Western nations where Islamic minorities have been growing in numbers and visibility, and where fear and resentment of Muslim immigrants and their religion have become increasingly strident and widespread. The warning signs have been there: the irrational fierceness of official French resistance to the shawls and burkas worn by some Muslim women; the growing opposition in many European quarters to Turkish membership in the European Union.
Terrorist attacks by Islamic militants, notably 9/11 and the attacks on London,Madrid and Mumbai, have played a role in the perception of Muslims as a security threat. But the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance. Banning minarets does not address any of the problems with Muslim immigrants, but it is certain to alienate and anger them.
In Switzerland, Muslims amount to barely 6 percent of the population and there is no evidence of Islamic extremism. If its residents can succumb so easily to the propaganda of a xenophobic right-wing party, then countries with far greater Muslim populations and far more virulent strains of xenophobia best quickly start thinking about how to counter the trend.
If left unchecked, xenophobia spreads fast. Already right-wingers in theNetherlands and Denmark have called for similar measures, and others are bound to be encouraged by the success of the Swiss People’s Party.