Nestle. The United Nations. Rolex. Secure Banking. Toblerone. Yodeling. William Tell. Cowbells. Neutrality. Rousseau. Alpine Skiing. Heidi.
These are a few of the things -- mostly pretty -- that come to mind when you say "Switzerland."
But now thanks to a recent popular vote on a controversial referendum, things like "intolerance," "paranoia," and "limitations on freedom of religion" have joined the merry list.
In case you have not heard already, 57% of Swiss voters approved a proposal Sunday to ban mosque minarets in a nationwide referendum sponsored by the Swiss People's Party (SVP), a right-wing group long known for its anti-immigration campaigns. A complacent Swiss government subsequently stated that it will "respect the decision" of the people and will affect the ban on all new minarets in the country.
2009-12-02-swiss_minaret.jpgThe SVP flooded the tiny landlocked Alpine state with posters in which minarets appeared as missiles rising from the Swiss flag. They told voters that "the minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls." This is not true of course.
Most Muslims accept the minaret as an architectural conduit for the call to prayer, but most do not seek political power, subscribe to the burqa, tolerate forced marriages, or accept genital mutilation of girls. Forced marriages and female circumcision happen mostly in poor, uneducated parts of the world and have no foundation in Islam. The burqa is worn by less than 1% of Muslim women. How these three things are "comparable" with a minaret must be Switzerland's dirty little secret because I cannot figure it out.
Yet by casting the minaret, a mainstream symbol of normative Islam, as some kind of Trojan horse bearing the Achilles heel that will vanquish Swiss political and cultural hegemony, the SVP seems to have petrified people into a knee-jerk acceptance of a draconian ban that amounts to throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
While the ban has dismayed Muslims, it should also embarrass Switzerland whose polished image will likely take a major beating. The Swiss logic here is as arbitrary and nonsensical as if Dubai were to ban skyscrapers because they "represent American corporate greed which is partially to blame for the misguided war in Iraq." Imagine the scornful reaction around the world then.