…said a Swiss government spokesman on the radio this morning, after 58% of her country’s voters opted to ban the construction of mosques’ towers in a referendum (turnout: 53%). It would be hard to imagine Alpine German-speakers supporting the prohibition of a distinguishing feature of synagogues, wouldn’t it? But, then again…
If minarets were spreading in such numbers and heights that they were obstructing views of the Matterhorn, it might be understandable. But in Switzerland, with a grand total of four of the things at the moment, nothing goes unregulated, and you can be sure there are laws, rules and codes galore on building sizes. What the plucky little cuckoo clock and chocolate specialists are doing here is nothing more or less than picking on a particular minority religion. For that reason, the result of the referendum will apparently be overturned by the courts.
Obviously the structures themselves are not the issue; it is what Swiss people think they symbolize or even presage. The 5% of Switzerland’s inhabitants who are Muslim are mainly from the Balkans and Turkey. Few, if any, are likely to make creepy political statements through the contrived adoption of archaic Arab practices like wrapping women in niqab or pressuring men to grow lengthy beards – as Islamists of North African or South Asian descent in some other parts of Europe do. Even allowing for their famed stolid conservatism, the Swiss have relatively little reason to freak out about Islam.
If this is a sort of collective punishment, or at least bullying, there is a huge list of provocations. In Saudi Arabia, forget a ban on steeples: Christian or other non-Muslim churches and public worship are simply illegal. In the Netherlands, a film maker was killed for producing a (lame) documentary criticizing the Koran. Mouth-frothing hairy weirdoes from Pakistan to Birmingham ranted and burnt flags after a Danish newspaper carried a series of (mostly pitiful) cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed. From Indonesia, to Malaysia, to Afghanistan, to Palestine, to Morocco, eccentrics, often officially proscribed, call for judicial amputations, beheadings, suicide bombings, the slaying of infidels and all manner of lunacy, inspiring not only disaffected locals but occasionally pathetic young Westerners of the sort who might otherwise drift to Scientology. Although they are pre-Islamic tribal traditions arising in places like the Arab Crescent , Kurdish, Pakistani and (Sikh) Punjabi and Kashmiri regions – unknown to, say, Berbers or Malays – honour killings are widely perceived in the West as a Muslim thing.
Islam has a serious PR problem. A strand of xenophobic fanatics are working to provoke an anti-Islamic backlash among infidels through terrorist acts like 9-11 and thousands of lesser words and deeds of belligerence, such as taking offence at every possible perceived slight. They want Westerners to react by insulting, bullying or attacking run-of-the-mill Muslims who see their faith as separate from politics; the idea is to alienate the latter and drive them towards piety and openness to fundamentalism. The amazing thing is that so many non-Muslims in the West are sticking to their pluralistic and tolerant values in the face of this aggression, and that so many Muslims are still eschewing radicalism and just getting on with their lives. The Swiss vote is a victory for the Islamist extremists.
It could be that the whole Islamist nonsense is a fad that will blow over in the years to come. Better governance in Arab and other Muslim countries would do much to end the deprivation that nurtures self-pitying victimhood and in turn anti-Westernism and anti-modernism. (A less materialist, decadent, values-optional culture in Western countries might not hurt either while we’re attacking root causes, though I’d sooner pass on it myself.) Meanwhile, we just have to wait and hope non-Swiss non-Muslims keep their patience, and – most of all – a few Muslims get off the fence and start getting tough with the in-your-face veils-and-beards brigade who are giving them a bad reputation. If they want to avoid becoming victims of intolerance from non-yodeling, non-Muslim Westerners, they need to practice a bit of it themselves.
It is worth remembering that the Big Lychee’s own insular mountain-dwellers up in the New Territories beat the Helvetic bigots to it a few years back. Fighting a proposed mosque (or “temporary temporary religious institution,” as only Hong Kong bureaucrats could term it) the villagers of Lo Uk claimed a Muslim house of worship would be…
…a completely incompatible religious institution which would easily stir up conflicts and spoil the peaceful life and the local customs … … and would affect … environmental hygiene, bring noise nuisance and threaten security … [and] attract strangers that might affect law and order…(p.29-30)
Anyone who knew these people immediately saw through such flimsy pretensions to Swiss-style racism in the city that’s too money-grubbing to hate: the land concerned was, of course, earmarked for free transfer to local men under the ‘small houses’ scam.