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.


#1 Randy on Tuesday December 01, 2009 at 2:28pm

Actually because each country is sovereign, it has the right to do within its borders as it will.  Period.  And if that means ensuring that immigrants assimilate, then that is its right, and as it should be.  I say this as a liberal, knowing it permits other countries to do things I don’t like.  That’s the whole point.

Whether this changes Switzerland’s membership in any larger group is for those groups to decide, but they cannot prevent Switzerland from doing what it sees is right.

It would appear that Switzerland’s welcoming hand is quite open, as it has attacted enough immigration to provoke this response.

There are clear and significant differences between a burqa (a mask rendering the wearer completely unidentifiable in public) and a nun’s habit.  There are clear and significant differences between a steeple (from which you might hear bells) and a minaret (from which you might hear the five-times-daily call to Muslim prayer, possibly in Arabic).  Bells are a musical instrument, generally pleasing to anyone, and are not an imposition of belief.  In contrast, a minaret essentially renders the entire area a Muslim territory.

#2 Pau (Guest) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 at 5:42am

Why argue about the difference between a Burqa and a nun’s habit, a minaret or steeple? All are symbols of superstition and intents to proclaim the superiority of one conviction over another. When I spend some time in Jakarta, I remember with a smile how the call for evening prayer, became the reminder for “happy hour”. And I also remember not being able to sleep in my inlaws home near Paris, because my bedroom was level with and less than 100 meters from the town church’s bells; I hated that particular kind of music, which has the same purpose as the calls for happy hour.
Neither of them show any respect for a diversity of ideas. I wish the swiss (and others) would follow this beginning by prohibiting all kinds of intruding manifestations.

#3 SimonSays on Wednesday December 02, 2009 at 8:32am

Agree with Pau 100%. Both the (proposed) burqa ban and the minaret ban are pretty obvious political ploys to win points at the expense of muslim minorities. Using “human rights” pretenses in both cases makes it even more shameful.

I had read a quote from a Swiss politician that claimed that minarets were the first step to sharia law…reminded me of a recent attempt in this country to liken proposed Obama reforms during the election as the first step to Marxism. Needless to say both being completely false. We shouldn’t be fooled by deceitful rhetoric, the Swiss People’s Party is using islamophobia for political gain and they should be ashamed.

#4 LT (Guest) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 at 3:06pm

I find the Swiss decision to be terrible. The clear discrimination against Muslims is a violation of Article 18 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I applaud your rejection of the decision as an illegitimate use of power.

#5 David Koepsell (Guest) on Thursday December 03, 2009 at 10:12am

There’s an interesting irony here.  I was in Switzerland this summer and noticed that many of the churches in the region I visited have minarets or a sort.  So what will become of the ancient, Christian minarets on their churches?  Is it a blanket ban, or just on muslim minarets?

It wouldn’t pass the equal protection test in the US, and is an affront to free expression.

#6 SimonSays on Thursday December 03, 2009 at 10:14am

It’s a ban on building of new minarets on mosques. Everything else is permitted.

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