Neutrality takes no side but that of convenience

The Swiss have voted to ban minarets. There's no mincing words over why: the measure is designed to curtail Islam. Hitherto held among the most liberal democracies, Switzerland now faces international condemnation for such a blatant (if superficial) suppression of religious freedom. The measure is a cipher for a deeper weakness: the assumed inability of Swiss culture to withstand the influence of another.


  1. And it would only be consequential to now also ban church towers. Under that precondition, accepting the decision would even make sense.

  2. I’ve always thought of myself as being in favour of total freedom of speech, religion and so on. Having grown up in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s certainly also made me aware of the blatant and subtle aspects of racism, discrimination and intolerance, as well as equality and fairness.

    However, respect and tolerance does not mean allowing others to walk all over you. I am becoming tired of so-called white people being vilified and blamed for everything and anything on this planet.

    One day humans will hopefully evolve above superstitious and discriminatory things like religion. However, until then, if you come to live in “my” country, I would like you to adopt that same level of respect for me and my country as I am expected to do for yours. I would like you to integrate with society and the social norms in “my” country. I don’t want to hear that you slit your daughter’s throat because she went on a date with someone of a different religion. The same goes to fundamentalist christians who just as guilty.

    In South Africa it was a-ok for black people to shout “One settler one bullet” or “Africa for Africans”. Seems to me that racism and intolerance are just fine when they are directed at “white” people.

    So, however much I abhor the Swiss decision, and it is a step backwards, I do think that it is an important sign to the world that we, our democracies and freedoms, also need to be respected, and that things have gone too far.
    I truly believe that such a referendum result would be impossible if the Swiss people did not feel under threat of their own culture and life being taken over by others.

    1. When you say “My country” do you mean to imply that the 400,000 swiss muslims are…Swiss enough to call it their country as well? Nationalism is an ugly thing.

      The buried lede in this story is the number of minarets currently in Switzerland. 1000? 10,000? No.

      It’s Four.

      This is simply a vile, xenophobic act that makes the Swiss people (57% of them at least) look like bigots. It’s bad enough here in the US where members of congress accusing Muslim groups of planting spies in the intern programs.

      Just sickening.

    2. Hi Digilante-

      With all due respect, your lack of historical perspective on this issue is a bit upsetting, especially with regards to your own country – it’s not like the regime in South Africa was NOT the result of brutal colonialism. If people were coming into your community, systematically stealing your wealth and killing your people (both explicitly and implictiy, by colonizers taking the best land and marginalizing locals, etc). It’s kind of sad that you can’t see the havoc wrecked on this world by European imperialism. Massive numbers of people were slaughtered over a couple of centuries, holocaust type numbers, entire communities wiped out to make way for “progress” as defined by European colonialism. The effects are still very much with us today. The rhetoric about Muslims is part and parcel of this. Assuming that because a few Muslims do something that it’s “part of their religion” as opposed to a product of certain localized historical processes is like saying that all christians are like Pat Robertson or William Pierce… Much unrest today that we often attribute to “local inability to keep up with modernity” or “backwardness” amongst “natives” can be seen to follow money trails that lead back to western corporations (ie, Trouble in the Congo can be linked to some of the rare minerals that are used in our cell phones, etc; oil in the mid-east; various mines in Kosova). To create these “modern” communities, one must destroy the one that is there. Now a days this happens with local leaders imposing the dictates of the IMF on local communities… This is not to blame all Europeans/white men, of course, but it is to say that these are processes, that seem to be “invisible” that get taken out of the equation in dealing with issues of unrest world wide. We all too often, here in the west, do not see the effects of global capital in other places, because it’s not talked about except in terms that pushes the blame on locals entirely.

      I would recommend you check out Mike Davis’ book, Late Victorian Holocaust, which details some of this reality. There are other books that deal specifically with Muslims in Europe, for example, Rita Chin who wrote the Guest worker Question Postwar Germany…

      Again, no disrespect meant, but try to have a little broader understanding of the world…

    3. In South Africa it was a-ok for black people to shout “One settler one bullet” or “Africa for Africans”.

      Black South Africans, the overwhelming majority of the population, were disenfranchised, terrorized and subjugated by the white settler minority who controlled the apparatus of the state and the military. How do you think apartheid was ended? Harsh language?

      If you’re so willing to defend the majority Swiss in protecting their culture, why are you belly-aching about native Africans reclaiming theirs?

      1. I wish I could find the video, but there was some Congresscreature going on about how “insulted” he was when people decried the Rebel Flag being flown over state capitals in the US. I swear the man actually said “People should understand history, and how many people suffered and died for that flag.”

        I think he then imploded from sheer stupid.

        1. mgfarrelly, did anyone point out that the people who objected to the flag being flown did so because they had some notion of how many people have suffered and died for that flag and the system it represents?

          1. Oh, of course not.

            I’m fairly certain it was Trent Lott speaking in Mississippi. Almost as tone-deaf and history-blind as this statement

            “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either.”

            which cost him his political career. Dumb will tell.

    4. However, until then, if you come to live in “my” country, I would like you to adopt that same level of respect for me and my country as I am expected to do for yours.

      Digilante, you’re a white guy who grew up in South Africa and you have the gall to talk about disrespectful foreigners coming to live in “your” country? I blink repeatedly.

  3. I’m confused. Since when was Switzerland other than deeply xenophobic, especially in the more conservative cantons? Did I miss a memo?

  4. I’ve never held Switzerland to be among the most liberal democracies, so I don’t understand the thrust of this opinion article. Neutral has never meant liberal, even if the Swiss were to define liberal as seems to be taken at boingboing (which is unlikely). And I wonder if the vote is less a cipher than a reaction; Europe is steaming over actions by Muslims, and I think the Swiss clearly want to avoid any van Gogh moments. To them, I suppose, if that means removing symbols of power, then they shall do so. Also, I can’t imagine that the overwhelming majority of Swiss are as worried about world opinion as Canadians seem to be; after all, look at the heat they took in WWII for their stance, and they’re still around.

  5. The first link is SlashDotted, so I’ll work off the second one:

    This seems to be a move to ban the construction of new minarets, not new mosques or Islam or muslims in general. It might be that the Swiss, what with having front row seats for the muslim problems in France, don’t want any of that in their country.

    It might be that various members of the Swiss citizenry don’t like foreigners in general and are making a statement.

    It might be that this is a very minor tit-for-tat with islamic countries, where not being muslim is essentially a crime, or at least a fineable offense.

    All in all it strikes me as being an internal affair that mostly matters to the Swiss.

  6. Hitherto held among the most liberal democracies

    Actually, they’re a right-wing rogue state.

    Until the Supreme Court overruled it, there were secret ballots where Swiss citizens could reject citizenship applications without cause, sometimes for people who were born and raised there. The secrecy was overturned, but your neighbors still get to decide if you don’t belong. In practice, it’s applied solely to non-whites and Muslims.

    The Swiss People’s Party, a right-wing, anti-immigrant party similar to the BNP, got 27% of the vote in the 2007 election and holds 62 of 200 seats in parliament. They claim to want to stop the spread of Sharia, but the majority of Swiss Muslims are from Bosnia and quite European in perspective.

    The Swiss economy has thrived as a tax haven and financial black hole for repressive dictators from around the world. They’ve also repeatedly stonewalled the efforts of holocaust victims and their families to retrieve their assets.

    Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002 and still doesn’t qualify for EU membership.

    1. Errh – I think some things are *clearly* wrong here:
      “In practice, it’s applied solely to non-whites and Muslims.”
      In fact it is applied to whites just as well as to non-whites. Especially to people from Former Yugoslavia (and not only to the Muslims amongst those).

      “The Swiss economy has thrived as a tax haven and financial black hole for repressive dictators from around the world.”
      Partly true, but Swiss laws against money laundering are (since several years) probably the strictest in the world. You cannot open an account without declaration of the beneficiary (sth which seemingly can still easily be done e.g. in Delaware or in some Commonwealth countries).

      “Switzerland only joined the UN in 2002 and still doesn’t qualify for EU membership.”
      Late UN membership was due to reservations because of neutrality. After all, there are UN bodies which decide over war.
      I don’t understand where “still doesn’t qualify for EU membership” comes from. So far, the official policy of Switzerland is not wanting to join EU (an application to EU is on hold). Switzerland (similar to Germany) would be a big net payer and would be very welcomed by EU, if it decided to join eventually.

    2. Mentioning Switzerland’s status as a liberal democracy does say something unsettling about whether the implied freedoms actually exist, doesn’t it?

    3. rlly fl ths dpctn s ttlly nfr.

      ” rght-wng rg stt?”

      Thy r ppl wh wnt t b lft ln t lv thr lvs s thy s ft.

      W prmt dmcrcy, bt thn gt pst f th wll f th ppl s dffrnt frm r wn wll. thnk hvng th rght t drctly vt n ctznshp pplctns s nt bd d. mn, ths s drct dmcrcy. Wh bttr t dcd wh cn mmgrt tht th ppl wh wll lv wth thm?

      f thy wnt t crtl mmgrtn, tht’s thr rght. Wh r w t tll thm wh thy mst ccpt s nghbrs? Ds bng rstrctv wth wh thy grnt fll ctznshp t mk thm rght wngrs?

      Yr ssrtn tht “n prctc, t’s ppld slly t nn-whts nd Mslms.” s nflmmtry nd nt spprtd by vdnc, nlss y hv smthng thr thn tht BBC rtcl. Jst bcs tw gys frm Trky sy thy wr dscrmntd gnst, dsn’t mn tht WSPs wr dnd s wll. f crs, t’s pssbl tht thy dscrmnt gnst nn-rpns n prctc, bt th s f th trm “slly” s hrd t jstfy.

      s fr th tx hv stts, wll, tht’s tr. Bt, cnsdrng tht pyng txs s cmplcty n th mrdr, gncd, nd pc crms tht vrs gvrnmnts rnd th wrld cmmt, hlpng ppl vd thm s hrdly prly bd thng.

      nd s fr th Nz gld, wll, thr’s smthng t t – bt thr’s ls vdnc tht th mnt n qstn s mch lss thn wht hs bn rprtd.

      “rght wng rg stt?” Lk t th S vr th lst ffty yrs. Swtzrlnd hs nvr hrmd nybdy.

      ‘v hd trbl fndng gd dcmnttn fr t, s t mght b rght wng spn, bt vr th yrs ‘v rd nmbr f rprts f gy bshngs n rp cmmttd by yng Mslm mn wh cnsdr hmsxlty t b mrtl sn. Gnrlly, mst prctcng mslms hv knwn, nd hv knwn nd rspctd lt f mslms, r frly llbrl n thr scl vws, nd spprt th lgsltng f mrlty.

      t s bsltly wthn ts rght fr th drct dmcrcy f Swtzrlnd t nt grnt fll ctznshp t ppl wh d nt dply ndrstnd nd msh wth ts cntrs ld gvrnmntl nstttns nd trdtn f prsnl lbrty.

      Whch s nt t sy tht thr rn’t rcst ndrcrrnts t sm Swss ctzns r vts, thr my wll b.

      thr wy, ths mnrts lw s bsclly stpd nd cntrprdctv.

  7. I wonder why Digilante’s comment was left un-disemvowelled. First a ludicrous use of the slippery-slope fallacy to make it sound like building a minaret would be the same as condoning “honor killings”, then wholesale insults to the black South African… Hello, moderators?

    1. I wonder why Digilante’s comment was left un-disemvowelled.

      Because nobody could argue more eloquently against his own position than he did himself.

  8. Thank you mgfarrelly. I was just about to reply to Digilante, but you did it better than I could have. How dare you suggest that if you are Muslim, you are not truly Swiss? This is yet another case of the majority discriminating against a minority (similar to Prop 8 in California), and another strike against the referendum system.

  9. @ TEd8305: I wonder how on earth one can think there is *not* outrage in the Western world over barbaric injustices like the one you quote when it is perpetrated in the Middle East…

    1. @Irene, of course there’s outrage in the western world over abuses the middle east. And (correctly, IMHO), there’s outrage in the western *and* Islamic worlds over the minaret vote in Switzerland.

      What’s wrong is the conspicuous lack of outrage in the Islamic world over the atrocities committed there in the name of their culture/religion.

      1. How do you know that there is no outrage amongst Muslims? Since many live in virtual dictatorships (do you have any clue how brutal these regimes can be?) that THE WEST props up, do you think that they all are constantly saying what they think or that they are not speaking publicly for fear of their own safety? Plus do you think that they get the whole story from their media? For that matter, do you think WE get the whole story from our supposedly free media? How do you know what goes on inside their homes and private spaces, where they talk freely?

  10. Many communities ban tall towers associated with commerce — McDonald’s restaurants in upscale communities generally lack those tacky golden arches — how is this any different? Religion is just another business; strip away the supernatural folderol and follow the money.

    1. Many communities ban tall towers associated with commerce — McDonald’s restaurants in upscale communities generally lack those tacky golden arches — how is this any different?

      It’s different because they aren’t trying to ban all tall towers associated with religion. They’re targeting a specific religion.

      1. Aesthetic judgments also apply to buildings of commerce as well. In practice this may mean that Olive Garden might be allowed to have a higher sign that McDonald’s, if the Olive Garden sign is viewed as less garish by the zoning committee.

  11. My hat goes off to the Swiss for taking a stand. They are addressing a problem uncompromisingly, without fear of the possible repercussions from the international community. Whether or not I agree with them over this issue is irrelevant. I simply applaud them for not pussy-footing around.

  12. Are people really going to crack out the “Well in Muslim countries they do way worse stuff!”

    That’s stopped being an acceptable argument around the time you told your mom that all the other kids get to eat ice cream for dinner and none of them had to clean their room either.

    An ostensibly western democracy voting in a piece of xenophobic anti-muslim legislation in 2009 is a bit shocking. This does nothing to negate human rights abuses anywhere else in the world. Carry on.

  13. @Irene “then wholesale insults to the black South African”

    Umm, I apologise if I insulted anyone, but I wrote pure facts. It was, and still is ok for some groups in South Africa to make those exact statements without any consequence.

  14. In his book “The Authoritarians” Bob Altemeyer suggests several methods for a community or country to thwart authoritarianism which includes fundamentalist religions such as Islam, including increased support for anti-discrimination laws and higher education, and for individuals or less authoritarian groups to reach out to these people and attempt to invite them to join “normal” society.

    1. You mean engaging people in society might make them less prone to feeling alienated and acting in anti-social and even violent ways?


      I think a number of posters on here (and all over Reddit) are seeing this as some great blow against irrational religious fervor. It’s not.

      This is a government targeting a very specific group with a specific law in order to prevent a broad social trend from “changing” their society. It’s bigotry in the name of a panic over “Islamization”. Seeing this as some kind of brave stand against the perils of fundamentalism would be akin to cheering on the desecration of a synagogue.

      1. Best comment so far.

        Forgets indignation. Forgets finger-pointing. Goes right to the root. A little sarcastic, but that’s forgivable.

        In any emotionally charged situation, stop and ask yourself, what do I want most?

        At the root here: How do we promote civil behavior?

        Likely the best path is to treat people like people.

        My hat’s off.

  15. @ kenmce: Oh, yeah… A lot of Swiss people “don’t want any of that”, as you say, but what they really mean is that they don’t want muslims to have equal rights in their country. That’s on a par with Prop 8 and other bigotry. No wonder they (and you) seem to think of muslims in France as a cause of problems only.

  16. @mindysan33 – yes, I wrote my comments from a certain perspective, but that does not mean I am not aware of the broader picture. Frankly, when I think of it all, I get mightily depressed. The British, Spanish, Portuguese, French, et al are all guilty of mass murder, systematic theft and, really, crimes against humanity that would make Adolf blush. African, Asian, American peoples were all disenfranchised and suffered in the name of religion and civilisation.

    I just feel that no matter what a white bloke does, he’s vilified, and he’s immediately a racist and “bad guy”. How do we get past that, at the same time being able to hold some semblance of our own culture and not be walked over.

    One thing I surely did wrong in my first comment here is that I forgot to specify that my views were more general, not just aimed at Switzerland. I agree with most posters here that the Swiss are quite a conservative bunch who are not comfortable with change.

    I still believe that the best way for humans to integrate fully is for the process to happen naturally. This takes some generations – people need time to adjust, let go, get ready for change. I get the feeling that at this time the processes are somewhat hurried and forced, and then you get people reacting negatively.

    1. Villified? Come on.

      I’m white, American, heterosexual, middle-class, and male. I’m literally one of the most privileged human beings on the planet by orders of magnitude that are just shameful.

      I don’t feel villified when people point out the rather shameful history of the groups I check on the census form. I acknowledge that history of the group and try to do better as an individual. Moping about feeling put upon only leads to resentment, anger and, well, this kind of bigoted nonsense.

      I studied Islamic history in college, got my MA in Medieval Egyptian history, made friends with dozens of Muslims in the course of my studies, had them in my home and was welcomed into theirs. It’s a small thing, but better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

    2. Digilante-

      Saying that a policy is racist does not equate to saying that all white christians males are racist. No one here has said that. We’re talking about processes and systems. And these are current processes, not ones that are of a bygone era. Telling someone that their religion is “not part of their country” despite the fact that they were born and raised in that country… how does that help natural integration you seem to favor? Should they just abandon their religion, because it’s “not Swiss” or “French” or whatever. How does some people practicing their religion oppress you in anyway? Are you assuming that all Muslims are backwards and that they give up rip about your relationship with faith and god? Or for that matter that all people of faith are backwards? Why do you think this is true? Why do you think pointing out racist practices implicates you as being racist? Are you institution policies that are racist? And doesn’t this presume that Islam is “foreign to Europe” when Muslims have been in Europe since the Ottoman invasion, European born Muslims… To deny is basically to say that only Western Europe is Europe, carving out the entire South Eastern region of Europe (the Balkans), which I find a relatively absurd notion.

      Arikol mentioned integration of workers in places like Germany, but remember that until recently, citizenship in Germany was predicated on “blood” or ethnicity. So people who lived in Germany, were born in Germany, participated in German culture in every way conceivable (other than maybe being Muslim instead of Christian), were excluded from citizenship, hence, made to feel like foreigners in what was really their only reality. That blood policy just changed in the last decade! How can being excluded from citizenship not create alienation within the immigrant population? Plus, don’t forget that guest workers were invited as well… Once the Western European powers began to decolonize, many former colonial subjects were actively invited to the metropole in order to fill in jobs that “Europeans didn’t want to do”, ya know, cause it was somehow beneath them…

    3. Digilante, has it occurred to you that maybe a post about Switzerland banning the construction of new minarets, an explicit and admitted anti-Muslim move, might not have been the best place for you to blurt out your reflexive oh-the-poor-oppressed-white-people diatribe?

      In this particular case, the thing these particular white blokes have done is attempt to ban the practice of a minority religion. The reason they’re being vilified for this is that they are villains. This isn’t a case of white people supporting white culture, it’s a case of white people suppressing non-white culture. Furthermore, the Swiss are betraying the European Enlightenment ideal of tolerance, so they’re abandoning white European culture as well!

      1. “the Swiss are betraying the European Enlightenment ideal of tolerance, so they’re abandoning white European culture as well! ”

        dude have you ever even been to europe? i for one wasn’t even slightly surprised when the swiss banned those silly towers.

  17. Yeah…
    I disagree with their stance on the matter, banning the buildings is no solution, but at least people there get to have an opinion on the matter (loathsome as the outcome may be).

    Look at countries like Germany where even mentioning that there IS a problem with immigrants can get you fired and even incarcerated (bank director a few weeks back).

    It is a fine line which is hard to follow, they probably overreacted there. More sensible might have been to impose a loudness limit on the prayer calls (which are even more disturbing and annoying than those da** churchbells always ringing), because a large part of the annoyance in the places where these towers are seems directed at the noise. I don’t want to live near those towers just like I don’t want to live near a church or near train tracks, an airport or a highway. All of them are noise pollution. Having lived next to all the above I would state that a voice screaming for prayer time is the most disturbing of all. And I can explain why, as well. Our hearing and cognitive systems are set up to handle voices differently to environmental sounds and puts much more energy into that. A screaming voice in the middle of the night is taken seriously by your brain. Birdsong or a jetliner flying overhead get put down as normal environmental sounds, an indicator of normalcy.

    But those countries in Europe which have not taken a stance (for instance, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden) have serious issues due to immigrants not having any interest in integrating into society or contributing to society (heck, the second genereation immigrants that I know speak the language here just about as well as I do, and I’ve been here for one year). However whole communities of immigrants figure out how to reap the maximum amount of benefits from the societies without contributing to its upkeep.

    For full disclosure, right now I myself am such a leech on society (free university, assistance from my chosen country for rent and upkeep of family) but I will give back to society when that is done. That is a goal not shared by too many other immigrants here in Sweden.

    Cue lots of people torching me for intolerance.

    1. Having lived next to all the above I would state that a voice screaming for prayer time is the most disturbing of all.

      Minarets in Switzerland aren’t used for calls to prayer.

      But those countries in Europe which have not taken a stance (for instance, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden) have serious issues due to immigrants not having any interest in integrating into society or contributing to society< ?i>

      Did you want to provide some citations for that, o self-proclaimed sucker at the welfare teat, or do you just want to leave it as unsupported propaganda.

    2. I agree. I lived in Australia for 10 years (I’m an immigrant, mind you, not white). People who I went through all of high school with, who had lived in Australia their entire life, still weren’t proficient in English. On the other hand, I lived in an English medium my entire life and was still put in ESL in 10th grade. I scored a 98.7 UAI and 96 in 3 unit English, which, for those of you who don’t know the Australian system, is a very impressive English score.

      In Australia, I was told that Australia is the most multicultural country in the world, yet all my problems at school were attributed to my refusal to assimilate to Australian culture and my dubious upbringing. I was once put on detention for exchanging private words in Bengali with a friend, as speaking in a foreign language is racist.

      I agree with the sentiment that foreigners don’t always try to assimilate, but in many cases, the level of ‘assimilation’ required involves losing ones identity altogether. If Switzerland would like to eliminate Islamic influences in their country, then they should do so, by all means. They should also drop the facade of being a reasonable country, and they should offer proper recompense to the Muslims already there. Simply making them feel unwelcome is pussy-footing around. It means that they are straddling a line. If you want to discriminate against something, then do so blatantly and absolutely, otherwise the pain you inflict can be quite intolerable.

  18. The underlying issue with all of these situations is the conflation of religion and politics within Islam and Islamism. If there were no Islamic nations, only a religion called Islam, then I doubt anyone would care about minarets. But Islam/ism does mix religion and politics in a way that makes a minaret a political symbol as well as a religious one. It’s the political part that makes people nervous.

  19. @jere7my – are you perhaps a white guy living in America? I blink repeatedly too ;-)

    As a child, I had no choice in where my parents moved to. I studied hard, I worked hard, I paid my taxes, I created jobs, I respected the culture, I voted YES to end apartheid. I am just a normal person, consumed by the typical self-interest of looking out for me and my family, but I can honestly say I did more good than bad. When can I be forgiven?

    Also, I strongly suggest some reading about the history of South Africa, especially about the population movements even before the arrival of Europeans. The question of “whose country / land is this?” is not as clear cut as you might think (not that this excuses what happened! don’t get me wrong).

    1. @jere7my – are you perhaps a white guy living in America? I blink repeatedly too ;-)

      I am indeed a white guy living in America. And if I were whining about people coming into “my” country with the audacity to bring their own traditions along, it would be nearly as awkward and disingenuous as when a white South African does it. Which is why I don’t.

  20. Some perspectives from a swiss that voted no to this silly initiative. First of all, direct democracy has its weaknesses. The emergence of this type of lunacy is one. I am not trying to diminish its importance. Tomorrow, a certain class of swiss citizens and residents will wake up with slightly less rights then the rest. It is a clear step backwards. However, I have strong hopes that the same forces of direct democracy that allowed this to happen today will erase it tomorrow. For those that jump to their guns too fast, please remember that the whole swiss governement was against this initiative. But we are a direct democracy. For better or worse.

  21. #2: How do minarets disrespect your freedoms? Do church bells also disrespect your freedoms? And what do minarets have to do with “color”?

    Color me confused.

  22. I keep thinking _Lord_of_the_Flies_ every time a headline like this comes up.

    As if denying a proper church structure to a minority group is going to make *anyone* want to settle down and play nice.

    By sending a clear message, “we don’t like you!” the Swiss have made their country a slightly more attractive target for terrorism.

    1. “By sending a clear message, “we don’t like you!” the Swiss have made their country a slightly more attractive target for terrorism.”

      So the alternative is “love us, or we’ll have to shoot you in the face” ?

  23. mindysan33 – all else aside, I think you will find many white South Africans (whether living there or not) to be a pretty confused and oversensitive bunch when it comes to issues of race. There is huge emotional baggage, confusion caused by feelings of guilt, and resentment, and joy and love all at the same time. Remember, the big change only happened 15 years ago. I wonder how the German peoples felt in 1960. I get the feeling that only now are they overcoming the past and maturing. I recently read something I never thought of: that there are children finishing high school now in South Africa who have no first hand memory of apartheid and the times that were. Surely that is the biggest success of all, and it should speak for itself.

    Religion – yeah, I’m a bit of a sceptic. It’s far too often a political tool that is used to justify actions that no sane person would be involved in.

    To end the expressing-of-my-opinions tonight, I want to say that this is one of the reasons I love BoingBoing: The ability to discuss differing points of view with thoughful persons who offer constructive views in a peaceful manner.

    1. Race is likewise a contentious issue in the states regarding our own apartheid, and it was not that long ago here, either (in living memory). Despite racial discrimination being “banned” in public policy, there is much resentment from some whites still towards people of color for no longer “knowing their proper place”, and it’s been bubbling up in nasty ways in American discourse in the past year since Obama was elected president.

      I likewise am skeptical of religion, but skepticism does not preclude empathy and understanding. I’m not saying that you or I or anyone else needs to believe in their religion as our own proper world view. But you do yourself and others a disservice when you can’t be empathetic to that point of view. I feel the same way towards my Muslim friends and Christian friends (or any religious friends) – their religion is great for them, but not for me, something that they know – but acting empathetical towards them, trying to understand their world view goes a long way to bridging any gaps between us as friends. When I act empathetical, then tend to act similarly towards me as well.

      And I agree!!! Long live Boing Boing!!!!

  24. Why must we decide that this move is either outright fascism or a bold defense of liberal democracy? Most of us here are probably from the US, so from our perspective this is a pretty blatant violation of the freedom of religious expression. Our laws are founded upon principles that are, at least in theory, neutral. Europe, on the other hand, is founded not upon principled liberalism but upon a liberalism circumscribed by the dominant culture–secularized Christianity. Many Europeans are quite open about this, while in the United States, those who talk about “defending” Western/Christian civilization are mostly confined to the right wing. So Europeans don’t see the issue of minarets in terms of rights, but in terms of a civilizational threat.

    Are they right to do so? Within their own paradigm, sure, it’s logical, but I think the US has the better system for accommodating progress and change. Europe avoided the United States’ race debate of the past half-century simply because of their remarkable homogeneity. Now that’s changing, and I don’t think they’re prepared. That doesn’t mean they have to Islamize, as the right wing propagandists would have you believe. Rights-based liberalism has an answer to the Muslim population increase in Europe, and it doesn’t include banning minarets. It probably involves some aspect of what Gordon Brown’s been trying to do in the UK–inculcating “British values”, for example. That’s admittedly paternalistic and kind of creepy, but it’s a recognition that European countries are liberal and civil societies accepting immigrants from places that are decidedly neither. Europe will have to be assertive about its principles–not Christian principles, but simply those of a liberal state–and this is almost certainly going to provoke the growing Muslim communities. The next twenty years in Europe will be very interesting, that’s for sure.

    1. I think my only problem with that is that even if liberalism is in theory “neutral” (an opinion I’m not necessarily on board with in the first place… but…), in practice it has rarely been so. Should we be concerned with theory or practice? In theory, ethnonationalism would work because “every nation would have a home”, but what has the reality been of that? Neutral? Hardly! Also, I think that the US has a very strong strain of secularized Christianity as the norm, albeit in different ways than Europe. Here things are just messier, I think (in the US, I mean)….

    2. @Owenbarron
      It’s a knee jerk reaction and unlikely to be helpful in the long run.

      As to our European sensibilities. My country took up christianity a thousand years ago. At knifepoint. We were threatened a prolonged war if we didn’t succumb.
      Now, a thousand years later, there is still resentment (and lousy christians).

      @Resonant #42
      I think that very pretty piece of architecture fits better in warmer and sandier climes, sorry. The colours are just all off, and the tower would look like something from Lord of the Rings if it were made from the darker local stone.

  25. To the comments about white colonialism being bad… Of course it was/is bad. No question.
    But two wrongs do not make a right.

    These countries (including Germany, even after post #35) have the problem that they just opened their border to one and all. Germany got an additional problem due to the integration of east and west. These countries had well functioning social support systems, but with an unfettered flow of new support beneficiaries who give little back (even second and third generation immigrants in some of the groups here in Sweden are taking much less part in supporting the society than the average “regular” swede).

    This leads to a collapse of services for everyone, which leads to resentment towards the “outsiders”. Which is not good.

    You mentioned how closed germany was. The solution was obviously not to throw open the borders out of a sense of guilt and keep them open for one and all without any work from the state to help new germans acclimatize and learn their new country. I see no problem in having limitations on citizenship so that to gain it you must learn the countries language and take an exam. I see no problem with customer service places refusing to hire people who can’t communicate with other employees or customers. I speak almost fluent Swedish, but it’s still not good enough. It has to be completely fluent. And I accept the limitations and try to rise to the challenge.

    @#35 mindysan33

    The rules in Germany preclude you from saying anything which might be construed as hate speech, however tenuous the link. You are not allowed to have a negative opinion of the druggies and hookers littering the street because they are immigrants.
    The bank director literally said that there was an immigrant problem. That is all he said. He was pushed into a different job because of that and threatened with being fired. The media wanted his head. That is, IMO, bad. It’s in the opposite direction than the swiss decision but no better.

    There is in fact a muzzle on rational discussion of any and all such matters in germany, including any opinion on WW2 which does not match the official governments standpoint. I’m not referring to holocaust deniers either. Even historical analysis of WW2 is a risky business. Heck, there is even a question as to the legality of a few google services in Germany. And games depicting nazis can not include a swaztika. WTF?
    Saying that the problem with immigration and immigrants must be worked on and solved is met with a response like you are suggesting a second holocaust even when all you are saying is that a rational plan must be made to increase the social services in the country and help with integration.

    The Swiss see all this happening in Germany and surrounding countries and are terrified of getting the same problems. So they take a conservative, hard-line stance against that. Which is probably a huge over reaction and mistake, but the majority of the people living in the country did get a say in the matter.

    1. Arikol, I suspect you’ve been hanging out with far too many folks on the right end of the Swedish political spectrum. Immigration there is a lot more complex than you’re admitting, or aware of. While Sweden definitely has taken in a lot more asylum-seekers than most other places (proportionately speaking) — a worthy endeavor — opening up borders to immigrants has other, more selfish motivations, such as addressing problems with population decline. It’s not simply a matter of open-minded, white countries welcoming in those unfortunate, and ultimately ungrateful brown folks, “to one and all”, as you say (and I know you’re not using the racialized terminology, but you’re parroting the code, so I’ve translated). Think of how enormously difficult it is for any cultural integration project to work — and no, your own experience as a priveleged immigrant doesn’t count. People need to learn language, customs, how to get around, where to buy stuff, how not to offend their neighbors, etc, stuff that may have been relatively easy for you, but is quite difficult for most people, and they do it having abandoned their home country almost exclusively due to violence or economic hardship. And all that’s just the daily grind. For example, it took the Irish multiple generations to become fully accepted members of society in the States – and they’re white. Given that discrimination is an absolutely real fact of life, you can’t expect people to show up and just adapt.

      You’re also painting a picture of Sweden as a country with an intractable immigrant population. This simply is not true. You clearly have not met many immigrants during your stay. While immigration itself will always have its own inherent tricky bits, Sweden has done remarkably well with cultural integration. Despite your perceptions, second-generation immigrant Swedes (i.e., the first generation born in Sweden) learn Swedish, and most learn it absolutely fluently. The number of third-generation immigrant Swedes who don’t know Swedish is tiny to non-existent — and don’t confuse the emergence of dialects like Rinkeby svenska as not knowing the language. Cultural integration, including linguistic integration, always leaves an effect on the newcomers and the old.

      1. To be fair (and sorry to keep talking about Sweden), there is, actually, a relatively substantial group of immigrants who steadfastly refuse to learn Swedish: they come primarily from the US, UK, Ireland, Canada, and Australia. It’s quite easy to live a good life in Sweden knowing only English and some basic Swedish, since most Swedes, including immigrants, speak English quite well.

        1. That’s a good point, anchisesdown, something that people seem to ignore when discussing immigrants to US/Europe… Also, ever notice when Americans (I won’t speak about others, cause I don’t know) live in a different country we are “ex-patriots” not “immigrants”? Why is that? What is the difference between the two, discursively, do you guys think?

          Also, Mechko, America also makes lots of noise about being “multi-cultural”, as well. Are we? What does that mean anyway? I don’t think I know anymore, frankly.

          And really, speaking in a foreign language, in a private conservation is considered racist? Wow! But wait, isn’t English a big language in Bengal as well (I might be wrong in that, I don’t actually know?)…

          1. The difference between American multiculturalism and Australian multiculturalism is that when someone doesn’t like you in America, they are very clear about it. There is none of this ‘toeing the line’ business. America is a lot more multicultural because as far as I’ve seen, it’s acceptable to be both American and Indian. Whereas in Australia, you’re Australian or you’re a ‘bloody immigrant’.

            Personally, I prefer being punched in the face once a year to being prodded and shoved every minute of every day and then being told that it’s my fault for not assimilating.

          2. Thanks, because I didn’t know all that. Sounds pretty rotten. :-( But, I think that, no, racism isn’t always all that clear in the States, either. Lately, people like Glenn Beck are being looked upon favorable by the extreme racist right as promoting their agenda without being so openly racist.

          3. The difference between American multiculturalism and Australian multiculturalism is that when someone doesn’t like you in America, they are very clear about it. There is none of this ‘toeing the line’ business. America is a lot more multicultural because as far as I’ve seen, it’s acceptable to be both American and Indian. Whereas in Australia, you’re Australian or you’re a ‘bloody immigrant’.

            I hope you’re not talking about Melbourne… The racism of my countrymen shits me to tears, but I’m pretty sure the cosmopolitan reputation of my city is fairly justified. I have many friends of European and Asian backgrounds, and I consider them all Aussies, and I’m far from alone.

            Oddly enough, in my experience, many first and second generation Australians are among the most racist, towards more recent immigrants, which I find slightly staggering… I’m of convict stock, BTW.

            And I’d say it’s quite a stretch to say that speaking in a foreign language is generally considered ‘racist’. In some circumstances it’s considered a bit rude, like passing notes. I recall feeling a bit uncomfortable in a bus in Brisbane due to a bunch of rowdy Japanese youths creating the impression they might have been hanging shit on the other passengers.

            I’m deeply saddened that my country has left this impression on you. I lay some of the blame at the feet of that fucking arch-prick John Howard, who led us quite a way backwards in this regard with his dog-whistle after noticing how many troglodytes came out of the woodwork in response to that idiot Pauline Hanson.

          4. I not touching the religion thing, but a couple clarifications on expatriates.

            First, they’re not “ex-patriots”. Their patriotism is not in question.

            In theory, an expatriate (expat) is not permanently settled, and plans to return to their home country. An immigrant is permanently settled in a new country.

            If you’re on a student visa, or a time-limited work visa, you’d be an expat.

            If you’ve moved to another country and are applying for citizenship, then you’d be an immigrant.

            Where it gets more complicated is when someone is living in another country for an indefinite period of time, and no specific plan to ever go back to their former home. In that case, a person might call himself an expat, even when they he’s a defacto immigrant, by virtue of having settled permanently.

          5. Most Indians living abroad ‘intend’ to go back home, but they are all labeled as immigrants. My father talks about it all the time, he is still labeled an immigrant. Yet I know Americans in Egypt who have lived there for more than half their life and intend to live there indefinitely, having bought a house and made long term investments. They are still labeled ‘expats’.

            Part of the issue here is not what people intend to do or whether it is clear what they intend to do, but rather what PR their respective countries of origin have. I’m an American citizen and have lived abroad for almost twenty years of my life. I really really want an opportunity to settle back in the US (I’m about to start graduate study and a job search here), but I’m still considered an Indian immigrant in Australia, even though I’ve been there 6 months of the last 4 years.

            It’s not a matter of what you call yourself. Its a matter of what others deign to call you. Expat is the same as immigrant in most cases, but its just free of a lot of the negative connotations.

      2. @ anchisesdown #58

        I actually don’t know any right wing people and myself count as rather left wing on most issues.

        It’s not about taking in brown skinned people, or poor savages or anything like that. The country from which a person comes has very little to do with the problem. If Americans were moving to Sweden or Germany in the same way, that would still be a problem if they could not be bothered to take part in society.

        It’s to do with each country functioning in a certain way, having its own customs, strengths and weaknesses. Wherever I live I have to take part in that society or I should go somewhere else. We must take part in the society in which we live and contribute if we want to reap the benefits.

        We can’t expect people to just adapt but they have to TRY.
        And adapting does not mean throwing all your old customs out, but it does mean taking part in your chosen country. We can discuss “chosen country” further as many are refgees and don’t get a choice, but they did make the choice to get out of their old country rather than die, and that constitutes a choice and a move to a new, “promised” country.

        1. The problem with this is that it is an ideal. As much as immigrants should ‘try’ to assimilate to some degree, the degree to which locals want them to assimilate is often much greater than the immigrants are willing to. When a person learns that even their best efforts will not suffice, more often than not a person stops trying. Moreover, the level of assimilation that is ‘acceptable’ is often not very well defined. We notice more what a person does different to the norm than what a person does that is in line with the norm.

    2. Hi Arikol-

      Actually, I agree that not being allowed to have these discussions are bad news, as I feel that getting the bad shit out in the open is quite useful, as it can be helpful in diffusing tensions (cause people can see how stupid the extremes are). However, such strict laws regarding hate speech in Germany does not necessarily preclude hateful opinions of and action towards immigrants, does it? In fact, it might in fact fuel antipathy towards immigrants (because, much like our South African friend points out), the public support of a “multi-cultural society” makes a group that is privileged feel threatened (which has the effect often times of pushing popular politics in a more conservative direction). My overall point regarding immigrants is that often times (at least in the case of Turkish immigrants – and a friend is actually working on the issue of Vietnamese in East Germany, so we’ll see what conclusions he comes to on that), they were actively marginalized in the first place.

      I am unaware of the situation regarding the banker you are speaking of, however, so I can’t comment on it. But, I have to say, I’m not very sympathetic towards bankers right now (contrary to my earlier comments about sympathy/empathy!)… I like everyone else, am a hypocrite! ;-)

  26. Whether Islam is dangerous or not, what does banning minarets accomplish? The weapons of extremists don’t include ornamental architecture. Innocent Muslims will feel resentment for being discriminated against, and extremist Muslims will only feel more justified in their acts. This ban won’t make anything safer or more peaceful, and is an utterly pointless waste of time and resources.

  27. I’m a Swiss guy myself, and as that I’m thoroughly unhappy about the result of today’s vote.


    Whatever you may think about Switzerland and the Swiss (right-wing isolationist xenophobes or liberal posterchild democrats), it *is* a Democracy. The rule of the game is that you agree to accept the decision of the majority. And that majority will in all likelyhood be made up of semi-informed people who more or less consciously follow the agenda of their party of choice. As much as in any other democracy.

    Just one thing about the democratic system in Switzerland though – it’s a direct democracy. People not only get to vote who they put into office, they can also directly influence policy with the instruments of “Initivative” and “Referendum”. This is unusual, at least as far as I know, and leads to results like that of today, the late joining of the UN or us staying out of the EU. One important factor is timing – if there had been voting about another controversial issue (say anything to do with the EU or Immigration) the result would probably have looked very different, since the other two issues on the ballot today probably weren’t perceived as very important.

    And one last thing – as at least one commenter said the Minaretverbot is not about banning or curtailing the practice of Islam as a religion. An initiative with a goal like that would not be possible since it would be in violiation of the constitution, which grants freedom of religion to everyone.

    Anyway, the whole thing was pointless. If you wanted to block the construction of minarets your best option would be an objection based on building legislation (which already makes it real hard for new churches to be built).

    On the whole it seems to me like a publicity stunt for the right wing parties, although an incredibly stupid and possibly even dangerous one. They get to congratulate themselves and show that they still can win controversial issues, which is important for them because they’ve steadily been losing ground and key figureheads over the last few years.

  28. Odd that no one’s touched this line from the OP:

    “The measure is a cipher for a deeper weakness: the assumed inability of Swiss culture to withstand the influence of another.”

    They’re very likely right to assume that inability.

    1. @Roach #50

      Yes, they are likely right to assume that inability.

      If situations like in Switzerland’s neighbouring countries (and the nordic countries, and UK) arise where huge groups of immigrants slowly take over large parts of their main cities while contributing less to the welfare system, then the Swiss system, the Swiss culture and the Swiss way of life will break down under long term pressure. Any country buckles under enough long term pressure. An armed invasion is not the only way to gain control of a country.
      They know that.

      So they do this in a knee-jerk fashion. Regrettable, but perhaps understandable.

      In my (old) country we had a lot of immigrants who moved there while everything was going fine. Many of them used a lot of services. Cheating on taxes seemed the norm rather than the exception. Crime rose with well organized gangs from eastern European countries raiding both the city and the countryside. Then when the economy went to crap, what happened?
      Even a lot of the ones that had gained citizenship bailed. Willing to reap the fruit but not to sow and work the land when it is required.
      That is one of the things that scares countries like Switzerland.

      1. Arikol – First of all, who is “THEY” and what is it that “THEY” know? Are you implying a plan to take over and undermine Europe/US by immigrating there and forcing every one to become Muslims? Really? And who is planning this, if this is what you mean? Should I point out that we are in their countries, in their foreign policies, and we get our views of them from really problematic people who an agenda (Bernard Lewis). Plus, you seem to be assuming that such things are peculiar to your (old) countries immigrants, as if natives do not do such things, or that marginalization was not part and parcel of causing criminality in the first place? When minorities have some part of their population, we tend to hear that it’s something in their nature, where as when a member of the majority does it, we like to pin it on personal pathology. This is not to say crime should be condoned, but crime is not always about being a bad guy and is often about marginalization and tactics to mitigate that marginalization. But, are people having to look at minarets really an invasion that somehow undermines Swiss culture? Why should people in general have to be fearful of practicing their belief system, including building houses of worship, as long as it is not harming others. This is targeted as a minority community, and should be seen as such.

        Greymalken, many protestant Americans are still deeply anti-catholic, actually, and I’d argue that our smaller catholic churches, etc, are a reflection of that. And yes, I think catholics are aware of that and apparently you haven’t heard the very vocal (yet deeply problematic) Bill Donahue of the Catholic league. To many American protestants Catholics are not real Christians (despite, ya know, being around for ages before any protestant sects and a while longer than the Orthodox sects). A catholic friend says that when he moved to the south, he went to a school chums house, and his parents wouldn’t let him in because he was “a papist”. They actually called him a papist!!!

        1. “despite, ya know, being around for ages before any protestant sects and a while longer than the Orthodox sects”

          Except for hmmm Greek Orthodox you know the one started by Jesus himself (by legend)

          1. Is that part of the legend of the Greek Orthodox Church? I didn’t know that… But… I do know that the roots of the church as a unified body of political power go back to about 300 or so (if I’m remembering my church history – Council of Nicea – 325ish?). The East-West schism is in 1050s, I think. One could argue that the Catholics are the splinter, but Catholics of course argue that the Greek Orthodox (and all Orthodox churchs) are splinters… My dog ain’t in that fight. But what can we attribute to Jesus historically? Of course, we are ignoring the various Christian traditions in Africa and the Middle East which have just as much of a claim to the religion as any of the European Christian sects, I would argue. Maybe more.

        2. @Mindysan33 #69

          “They” was put into quation marks just to point towards the in-group/out-group mentality which tends to form around this type of issue.
          And, yeah, mentioning a banker for sympathy is probably not going to work, but it does point towards the problem.
          As for the “it being in their nature” thing.. no. It’s in human nature. Moving to a new country with a new culture and language is hard. It’s even hard for me, and as was mentioned above (#58 or #59) i am a privileged immigrant. It’s easier for me as my culture shares some core ideas, my language is of the same family and I look like the locals (don’t underestimate that point, sad as that may seem). Still damn hard. Which is why I really try. I am also very careful not to clump myself together with the other Icelanders, some of whom don’t really communicate that much with Swedes.

          But fear of strangers, outsiders, change and all that is built into us. Mosques and strange customs (i.e. other than those we grew up with) scare us and provoke a reaction.

  29. I was about to comment that noise was probably one of the stated reasons for this ban, but I see from the WSJ ( that there are already strict noise-pollution bans in place in Switzerland. I would actually support limits on the adhan–perhaps a ban on the pre-dawn call, and a volume cap on the other calls–but this bit of news shows that the pretext of “it’s a noise issue” is bunk. I think this particular action is indefensible.

  30. ky, s thy cn’t bld Mnrts. . . bg dl. Wht’s t stp thm frm wrshppng n rglr bldngs tht dn’t hv slly, nn-shpd tps? Nthng. Thy cn jst bld sm trdtnl-lkng Swss bldng nd pt Msq n frnt f t. N hrm, n fl.
    Before I get flamed, look at the differences between Catholic churches in the U.S. and Europe/South America. There are very few true cathedrals in the U.S. most churches (and this varies by region) are bland and uninspired built out of MDF and drywall. Especially the ones built after Vatican II. Compare this to the amazing churches in Italy, France, or Spain. Even the Plaza churches in South America. There is a stark contrast but Catholics aren’t complaining about oppression.
    Also, if it’s THAT big a problem and they feel THAT oppressed, who’s stopping them from leaving? They could just as easily move to France or Germany (since they should speak French or Germany) and live happily ever after.

  31. Moving away from tangential topics and back to the article at hand…

    The actual article directly states that 57% of the population voted in favor of the ban, which is a fairly slim majority. On top of that, the article states the government opposed the measure for a number of reasons, not least of which was the damage to Swiss international image, et cetera.

    This seems less like Switzerland being overly right-wing and conservative (although that may well still be a big part of it) and more like one of the inherent flaws of democracy: id est, that of slim majorities and close votes leaving roughly half the country in a furor. To their credit, the Swiss government not only tried to oppose what they felt was a bad move, but they also stepped aside and allowed it to go through when the democratic process turned up results against what they wanted.

    ~D. Walker

  32. Does anyone remember back to the kerfuffle over Obama’s mentioning people “clinging to guns and religion” during this financial down turn? Lots of hate from the Right,though they were the ones gripping their guns and bibles in fear.

    Think further back,,,In 1802 the U.S.N. was established to combat Barbary pirates, (you know, the guys who are causing the trouble with their fundamental Islam today).

    Now insert Islamic Fundamentalists in place of bible thumpers in “clinging to their Qur’ans and guns”, and you start to get the picture. Their world sucks right now (think epic Colonialism fail V power vacuum). The only difference (at the moment) is the aforementioned Islamists have a little more strength of conviction than our bible thumpers.

    The only way i see to get around all of this idiocy is complete homogeneous world culture, (yuck!). Until EVERYBODY has what they want there will always be idiots bashing each other with clubs.

    1. I think that the world full of its diversity can work, absolutely. No need to force everyone into homogenity. How about empathy and less emphasis on people being forced into these very circumscribed identities?

      1. You really think so? Out side the Isle of Man (Scots and Vikings), it doesn’t happen very often. Your idea is nice but sophomoric. With out a strong man around or strong rule of law no way it can happen. Face it the KKK would still be burning crosses without strong law enforcement. Hell a year or two more with out jobs the IRA will start up again. Peace is just not possible. You have what I want, give it to me or I’ll kill you, that in a nut shell is mankind.
        I am not a cynic just pragmatic. If you can point to a period of peace ANYWHERE/ANYWHEN that peace was forced at sword/gun point/threat of oblivion. Please prove me wrong I would love to have a little hope.

        1. Because it’s never happened doesn’t mean it won’t. No number of examples is sufficient to prove a theorem (witness the Riemann Hypothesis).


        2. I think alot of violence is linked to the modern way of life, actually, at least violence of strong against the weak. Resentment between people who start to think of themselves as separate individuals from others in their community can lead to violence of course, especially when that is exploited by whatever powers that be. But honestly, I actually have no idea how we can compare amounts of violence now with amounts of violence in the pre-modern period (as I’m no pre-modern historian, so maybe that colors my view that I feel the modern era has been relatively violent period more so than other periods), especially given that how violent we think the world is seems to be out of proportion to how violent the world actually is (the distorting effects of how we get informed about the world, for example, the sorts of information we get on certain parts of the world…). There are, however, plenty of examples in history of people not only coexisting but thriving as “mixed” communities before the modern era, which was really my point. Case in point, Serbs and Croats live relatively peaceful lives together (including intermarriage) until the late 19th/early 20th century. contrary to popular belief there seems to be no “ancient hatred” between Serbs and any other group of people in the Balkans… I think the nature of violence in the 20th century is different, more personal in many ways.

          1. The powerful have always attacked the weak, not smart the other way around.
            About modern V. ancient violence: Steven Pinker(History of Violence),estimates 10000 years ago that 60% died by violence by an others hand and today in America 1%. Even though there is a lot of violence today it is seen as much less than historical times. Permanent and static boarders,(a lot less land grabs) have helped. A couple of reasons why it seems to be so violent today might be because of the Shrinking Planet and 24 hour news with it’s “if it bleeds it leads” attitude most of the news that is spoon fed to us tents to be violent.

  33. Ah, neutrality is fine. The problem is that rattling the cage (first Polanski and now this) causes a red rivulet of blood to lubricate certain deep economic concerns. This is not neutrality, this is wanting to create sinkholes in the cultural landscape. This is commitment to godmoney. The real problem for most of us, who just want to raise our kids, be entertained, do a bit of travel, and then die in a friendly nursing home. . . the problem is that on the other side there is a counterpart rattling the cage.

  34. First of all, I do not know why Switzerland is supposed to be liberal. They didn’t even give women the right to vote until 1971 for christ’s sake.

    About the issue at hand, in an ideal world I would say that no symbol or piece of architecture should ever be banned. Just as all speech is supposedly sacred. But we live in the real world and as such I am not opposed to the banning of the minaret.

    I would like to compare it to another banned symbol. The swastika. The swastika is an important symbol in buddhism, hinduism and jainism. Yet it is banned in Germany (and presumably most other countries in the EU as well). The reason it is banned is not because it is an important symbol, it is because that specific image is associated and has a history of representing violence, oppression, anti semitism and genocide.

    The minaret (along with the star of david and the christian cross) are also symbols of oppression and violence. They represent the religions of the book. So look at the books that they symbolize and see the oppression that they endorse (or that their perfect god endorses). Then look at the histories of those religions. For islam it is only slightly easier because most of the religious violence in the world is committed by muslims today.

    I would like to point out now that I am NOT comparing islam to Nazism lest any of you take that as my meaning. I am only comparing the banning of two religious symbols whose only similarity is that they were both banned.

    To reiterate, in a perfect world I am against the banning of anything. But when certain symbols come to represent such horrible things the least we could do is to be consistent.

    Thank you,

    1. “But when certain symbols come to represent such horrible things the least we could do is to be consistent.”

      Ban the mutherfucking american flag.

    2. Lets get one thing clear:

      right now, the whole world is at war with Islam. When a Muslim fights back, it’s an example of “Islamic Violence”. When a Christian or Jew fights back, it’s a country, not a religion. Its not a matter of who threw the first stone, not a matter of who’s fault it is, or who the aggressor is. This is a matter of PR.

      Remember that, however much you might disagree with their ideals, the Islamic world is fighting against perceived threats to their home. But we don’t see them as the Arab nations because their rulers, the Faisals, have grown fat and weak selling oil to the West. Their governments are held hostage individually under the threat of bombardment and destruction from the West. You realize, do you not, that if we were fighting the Arab COUNTRIES it would be so much harder to vilify them. Instead, we are told we are fighting Muslim terrorists. They are the same set of people, but they have different names. Go figure.

      1. I have a number of very big problems with your response.

        First of all, give me one example of a christian or jewish terrorist who was labeled as a country (or as fighting back) when they started killing civilians. Do we label abortion bombers terrorists?

        You also sound like you are making excuses for muslim terrorists. I am not making the case the the west should physically fight islam but it seems as though you are. The whole world is not at war with islam and it is utterly irresponsible to say so. Some stupid, insane muslims believe they are at war with the west. The rest of the world does not see it that way. I have no idea why you seem to believe that.

        And even if we did consider it a war it would matter who the first aggressor is. In this case, the first and only aggressor would be the aforementioned muslim fanatics. They are the ones who are blowing themselves up and murdering people they disagree with in the street.

        On to another point
        How are the muslim governments held hostage under threat of bombardment? When has any country in recent years threatened to bomb Malaysia or Indonesia or Saudi Arabia or nearly any muslim country besides Iran (or Palestine)? Why do you even bring this up?

        You entirely miss the point of my post when you talk about the Islamic world fighting against perceived threats to their home. You seem to be missing the entire point of my post. I dealt with virtually everything you said when I wrote
        “For islam it is only slightly easier because most of the religious violence in the world is committed by muslims today.” I put this down specifically to stop people like you from misinterpreting what I was saying. The point that I was making was that symbols of islam were symbols of oppression like the other symbols of the extant monotheistic religions.

        Thank you,

  35. Gd fr th Swss, fr nt tlrtng th ntlrnt. slmc rchtctr s smply nt cmptbl wth fr scty, ny mr thn Nz swstk r brnng crss.

    Some organizations or religions take advantage of a free society’s Achilles’ heel — the tolerance by the society of those organizations’ or religions’ intolerance.

    Irony abounds, of course: The intolerant thrive in a society that tolerates them; and similarly, a society that is free but cracks down on intolerance loses some credibility in existential arguments about whether a society can truly claim to be free if it does not allow opponents of freedom to operate.

    But ultimately, a society must protect itself from harmful influences, and finding a balance is what these sort of measures are intended to do. The religion itself has not been outlawed, though one could easily make the argument that is absolutely should be, and even their churches are allowed to exist. But by diminishing the ability of these churches to present their symbols, there is hope that the next generation will not fall victim to them.

    1. “Islamic architecture is simply not compatible with a free society”

      wow. is the same not true of fundamentalist christianity?

    2. I read your comment three times in the hopes that there was some double meaning, some sting of humor or attempt to play low-rent Jonathan Swift.

      I am saddened to see you appear to be serious.

      The notion that intolerance is the way to bring about a better society just boggles my mind. I’d no more support a law banning a religion than I would making one compulsory.

      Really, should the Irish eat their young? Should they now?

  36. And I feel all those saying “this is the will of the people,” or “Dear Islam, if you’d like to build minarets in Switzerland, take it to the people!”

    Gets a little tricky though when the people are heavily propagandized. Mind-control voids democracy. Alternatives? Not offering any. Just saying. Democracy can very much be the tyranny of the majority. The National Socialist party was voted into power. As was Bush. As was Obama. (Eat it Godwin!)

  37. Yes, but they haven’t carried out an Inquisition since 1860. Similarly, perhaps in a few centuries Islam will have become a peaceful religion, at which time the Swiss should allow them to express themselves again.

    1. How about Judaism then? Witness Israel/Palestine. A large number of Jewish settlers are religious fanatics. see “Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.”

      Islam in not inherently violent. Many followers of Islam are (many of them driven to extremes of violence by western intervention in their countries). Humanity does not have a happy history when it comes to race war. And it’s not just “them.”

  38. @Mtch
    Th prblm s wth Mnrts. Th Swss r bvsly bthrd ngh by thm tht thy pt t t vt. t’s nt my prblm, t’s th prblm thy chs t crt/ddrss. Frnkly, thnk ths nn-tps r prcs.
    I know all about dealing with the protties here in the American South. I grew up in the lone Catholic family in a Southern Baptist town. In my experience, it was only bad on Wednesdays and Sundays, when the baptists got together for church/bible study. Being the target of the grouphate was entertaining. I didn’t really mind it, I would just remind them that if it wasn’t for Catholics they wouldn’t exist. I don’t think I’ve been called a Papist yet, though I think that would be a compliment. What would I call them? An Osteen-ist?

    1. Ok, Greymalken, now please explain, if you can, why it would be reasonable for anyone to perceive minarets as a “problem”.

      1. The first one sank into the swamp. The second one sank into the swamp. The third one burned down, fell over and then sank into the swamp; but the forth one stood. But the fourth one stayed up. And that’s what you’re going to get, Lad, the strongest minaret in all of Switzerland.

  39. There are a number of issues I’d like to address:

    1. Democracy != Freedom. In a Venn diagram, neither circle is wholly subsumed in the other. Switzerland is a democracy, that doesn’t mean the action is defensible.

    2. Minarets aren’t missile silos. (Though I’m Arab and even I’ve thought a few them looked quite aerodynamic.) They don’t threaten anything. They’re not even a declaration of faith. I’m reminded of a person I know. I was eating lunch with him and he told me that he was considering injuring someone seated behind me, who was laughing. Apparently he was occasionally glancing in our direction and this person I was with took this as an affront, “Is that guy laughing at us? I swear if he is I going to break his face.” I obviously was alarmed by this and just looked him in the eye and calmed him down with this statement, “You know, 99.9999% of the time, people actually don’t actually give a shit about you.”

    This insecurity over the minarets “and what they represent” is no different. It’s petty paranoid nonsense and has no connection to anything objectionable in reality. Ditto for a woman’s clothing: It ain’t always about you pardner.

    3. Comparisons to McDonald’s signage is a non-argument. Neon signs are in a whole different category when compared to steeples, domes, gables, lightning rods, and minarets. Trust me, they would have banned domes in Switzerland if there weren’t already a Christian tradition of building those. (Especially among the Greek Orthodox)

    4. Can anyone tell me what this has accomplished in pragmatic terms? Anyone? Please. I’m still trying to understand whether there’s a practical point to this that I’m not seeing.

    1. Dear The Chemist:

      That was most excellent! Made my night, frankly! I mean, I’m gonna say “minarets aren’t missle silos” to like everyone I know. Not even about Muslims, or religion, or Minarets, or anything remotely related to the topic, either! I’m just going to say it totally randomly. “Hey Mindy, you want coffee?” You know, Minarets aren’t missile silos!!!!” “What?” “It ain’t about you pardner!”

      But I think there is NO practical point to all this, other than fear of the “other” that is apparently invaded their lands or whatever. It’s all distraction, I think.

  40. So I was thinking about it….

    I have no qualms in using the phrase “mind control” when describing how PR etc can make formally democratic forms irrelevant. Suggest reading: Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s “Manufacturing Consent.”

    Also: It has long been understood that in a democracy (even a functioning one) there exists a danger of the majority turning against a minority via the vote. Hence the “constitutional” in “constitutional democracy.”

    Hope this helps to clarify my position. I take “Freedom of Speech” in the abstract; “Freedom of Architecture” would be a proper subset.

  41. You have a country with a fairly established identity, and a traditionally low immigration rate, where immigrants were traditionally expected to do their best to conform to local cultural norms.

    Enter a comparatively large number of immigrants with enough of a shared ethnicity that they can form self-sustaining communities within the country, and thus conform to a far lesser degree, if only by predominantly interacting with others within their own community.

    Add in a few international incidents of problems regarding similar communities of what can loosely be described as the same people, a bit of the xenophobia you get in any group of people who don’t have enough interaction with those who are significantly different, and a whole lot of other worries about issues ranging from the economy to the mass media perpetuated images religious extremism.

    It’s ridiculous, and definitely not a good sign overall, but not particularly surprising. I mean, it’s not like they have ever had a tradition of multiculturalism.

  42. What is really weird is that it was not a problem in the first place. While I would at least understand a ban on functional minarets, there are none in Switzerland. It’s fixing a problem that does not exist. It’s stupid, and reflects really badly on the understanding of the Swiss people. I know that I’ve got my Canadian bias, but I still can’t fathom why a country of people, most of whom have never even seen a minaret, would consider themselves qualified to pass judgment on the fate of a architectural element. I mean, I heard about this on CBC radio and had know idea what a minaret was. There are only four of them in Switzerland.

  43. I think it’s brillant that people (Irene Delse) are calling for the disemvoweling of comments (Digilante) in a thread of this nature.

    …..heaven forbid someone express an opinion…..

  44. The actions of 57% of the Swiss people can hardly be excused. Their actions are undoubtedly, as others have pointed out, a result of prejudice and xenophobia.

    But I don’t think we should repress the notion that immigration is a problem in some European countries at the moment, as any discussion regarding immigration and integration is strictly along the party lines. And the solution is always one of either; “let them come and leave them alone”, or “close the borders and let see about the ones already here”. Any idea that doesn’t conform to either is political suicide. And that is sad. I wish the left-wing people (my people) would acknowledge that there is a problem and the right-wing people would grow a heart.

    And let me clarify, I don’t mean that immigrants in general is a problem, I’m saying that integration Isn’t working the way it should. At the moment it’s either repressing the immigrants culture to the degree that the immigrants feel threatened or not doing anything at all. And since this can’t be discussed in a rational way, nothing is being done and we end up with disenfranchised, vilified people living in ghettoes.

  45. Minarets are not exactly ‘Swiss’ now are they? It is a bit like having the first skyscraper or a neon-bedecked fast-food outlet in a quaint English village, or even windmills that can vaguely be seen from the shoreline.

    1. Well, actually, if minarets are built by people living in Switzerland, contributing to the Swiss economy, and taking part in Swiss society, then they most certainly are Swiss.

      What would happen if someone in Germany said that synagogues were not German?

  46. My nearest neighbours come from Iraq.
    Very nice people. They also work, pay taxes, their kids are definitely swedes and they all speak better swedish than I do.

    I’m impressed at their commitment and resolve. So are the natives.
    That’s what it takes, trying hard to take part in society. They still have their roots in Iraq, nothing will change that. The foodstuffs that are kept here are not the same as I buy. And the amount of onions bought is amazing. Doesn’t make them less a part of this society and community. But they make an effort to do that. Two that I know have told me stories of how their parents do not communicate with anyone outside the closed communities of people with the same roots as them.

    The result is that both those people I know have language issues which hamper them in school and are likely to affect their job opportunities.

    As an immigrant or expat you have to think of your kids chances as well. Confining yourself to a community populated only by those from your old country is bad for your kids chances and pretty much destroys your chances in that country. So taking part in the community/society/system which is already there is crucial for any immigrant should he want to do well.

    BOY is this off topic.. ;)

  47. Ah, once again religion forces people to take rash actions. Lets look at it this way, if there was a similar vote put forward in most Islamic countries (non-invaded) the outcome would most likely be the same, this kind of thing will never go away. As soon as religion is integrated into the running of a modern day country you can expect uproar. The only people that suffer are us Atheists, we’ve got to listen to this rubbish. As soon as religion dies on its bum the better.

  48. i love the Swiss . i love Switzerland . they do not need to transmogrify into a Swiss-Islam grotesque . the swiss are uniquely perfect “swiss” .
    Herr Darkman

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