Mosques and minarets, churches and steeples

December 1, 2009

Photo: Steeple and minaret in Wangen bei Olten, 7 August 2009 / Michael Buholzer

A Swiss referendum has passed to ban the new construction of minarets. The Swiss Council of Religions and other groups failed to prevent this outcome. There are currently four unaffected minarets in Switzerland, and about 400,000 Muslims (around 4%) in its population. European reactions are mostly negative , deploring this vote as a vote from fear and hatred. The United Nations chief officer for human rights said that this vote came from "anti-foreigner scare-mongering."

Like the burqa, the minaret has become a symbol for projecting intolerance and fear towards Islam in Europe. European countries permitted the voluntary immigration of Muslims, and now consider denying them their rights to religious practice and religious expression. Ban the burqa but not the nun's habit, ban the minaret but not the steeple. The contradictions send a clear message: don't bother trying to integrate. Muslims who receive second-class citizenship or no citizenship will not integrate quickly according to European standards of religious toleration. 

Any country has the legitimate power to regulate public architecture and public noise. Illegitimate power hides and silences one religion while promoting others. Any country has the responsibility to help its inhabitants to integrate (NOT assimilate) into accepting basic rights and laws for all. Illegitimate power denies basic rights and equal protection to some citizens so that other citizens can have extra rights. If a country put more effort into providing a welcoming and fair home to its immigrants, it wouldn't have to worry about regulating the height of religious buildings or the amount of religious clothing.