The Minaret Ban in Switzerland is one of those incidents that requires some time to process because there are so many threads to the story. Switzerland is the European country that anyone thinks of when they think of neutrality and tolerance. And, yet this is exactly the place where a ban just took place which shows a deep streak of racism towards, fear of, and willingness to discriminate against the 4.5% of the population that is Muslim.
Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country that has a terrible human rights record, is an absolute monarchy, and promotes a particularly rigid and extreme view of Islam that is repressive. In Saudia Arabia churches cannot be built, and it is even illegal to meet for Christian prayers or services. As a Muslim I am absolutely in disagreement with the Saudi position on this and many other issues, and openly state those views, as have many other Muslims. However, any reform movements in Saudi will be a long time coming as the royal family has the strong support of the U.S. government. And because of this no pressure is put on them to do something about their human rights and religious rights situation.
The Saudi situation is deplorable, and yet it seems that in the heart of Europe, the most enlightened country of Switzerland is ready to emulate the Saudi’s and turn its back on the enlightenment, on the best of modernity, and join the Saudi’s by taking the first step down a road leading to a return to a past in which minorities were treated barbarically culminating in the holocaust.
We don’t need minarets to practice Islam. There is no requirement that a mosque must have a minaret anymore than a church must have a steeple. But the banning of minarets in Switzerland is a human rights and religious freedom issue because it is specific to one religious community. Just as a minaret is a recognized symbol of a mosque, this vote to ban minarets is symbolic of a general state of mind. It sends a message to the Muslim community that they are not part of the society, that they are unwelcome aliens. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that prohibiting an architectural structure linked to Islam or any religion was “clearly discriminatory.” She said the ban was “discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take, and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations.”