Opinion: An unspoken assumption

Opinion: An unspoken assumption

A few thoughts on the Swiss minaret ban vote.

I didn't post my prediction for the minaret vote, but I expected the initiative to pass, for several reasons:

1. Though a couple of polls showed a majority opposing the minaret ban, others polls showed an even split and even a majority favoring the ban.

2. A general poll on Swiss attitudes towards Muslims showed that the Swiss do not want Islam in their face.

This poll also showed quite clearly that the German-speaking cantons supported the ban, while the French-speaking cantons opposed the ban, though less strongly:

Similarly to the general perception of Muslims in Switzerland, the debate about building minarets shows greater resistance in the German-speaking areas (48% against, 38% for, 14% no opinion) than in the French-speaking areas (38% against, 42% for, 20% no opinion).

3. The way I see it, the anti-minaret people had the enthusiasm factor on their side.

The pro-minaret people were fighting for freedom of religion, which is generally considered a Western value. But particularly after the Danish cartoon crisis, we all know how much Europe is willing to fight for Western values.

The anti-minaret people were fighting for their national identity. They were fighting to define Switzerland as a Swiss country, which happens to be a very appealing idea to the Swiss. The ban very simply tells Muslims that they might be tolerated guests, they might be allowed to build their homes in Switzerland, but they are not at home. Unlike the French headscarf ban, there is no attempt here to hide behind a ban on 'religious symbols' or 'large crosses'.

In the battle between liberal values and ethnic identity, I would bet on ethnic identity.

There was an unspoken assumption behind this initiative, expressed by the following quote:

"If we give them a minaret, they'll have us all wearing burqas," said Julia Werner, a local housewife. "Before you know it, we'll have sharia law and women being stoned to death in our streets. We won't be Swiss any more."

It's quite a jump from building a minaret to being forced to wear a burqa and Sharia law. The unspoken assumption is that Islam is taking over. The ethnic European identity is in danger of becoming a minority, and the majority ethnic identity will soon be Islam.

The minaret ban is not intended to make Islam more 'European'. It is intended to keep Islam out of the public view, as if that would make Islam go away.

A minaret ban might cause some Muslims to think twice about immigrating to Switzerland, but it will not stop the demographic trend in which Muslims are outpacing the 'locals'.

The Swiss popular referendum model is a two-edged sword. Swiss Muslims are scattered rather evenly around the country, and as their proportion in the population grows, they will have more and more power. Once Muslims have enough power to win such referendums, I expect it will be next on the list of things to go.

Because in the final tally, the Swiss would rather keep their national identity, as symbolized by the cross on their flag, over so-called 'Swiss values'.

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