Update: 30th November 2009

The vote to ban the minaret was passed. Switzerland, long pretending to be a liberal, democratic nation that respected the rights to the free practice of all faiths, has revealed its ugly underbelly. Amnesty International has already declared the country in violation of the right to the free practice of religion. Their statement was unequivocal:

“Contrary to the claims of the initiators of the referendum, a general prohibition of the construction of minarets would violate the right of Muslims in Switzerland to manifest their religion,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

“A ban on the construction of minarets while, for example, allowing those of church spires would constitute discrimination on the basis of religion.”

And even if it wasn’t, it entire campaign reflects a loving immersion in the joys of bigotry, and ahistorical idiocy.

The campaign to ban the minaret fed off irrational and hideous fears of the bogeyman of Islam, and a deep-seated and seriously bigoted depiction of the faith, its history, its community and its ideals. Suffice it to remind the idiots in Switzerland, that their own Christian steeple traces its own history to the Islamic minaret. Our friends at Chapati Mystery kindly posted a piece written by the historian Richard J. H. Gottheil. called “The Origin and History of the Minaret” in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Mar., 1910): 152-4. where he points out that:

It seems to me, therefore, that a possible explanation of the sudden appearance of the campanile in Italy during the eighth and ninth centuries, would be that they are due to Mohammedan influence. Whether this influence came from Egypt, or from Syria and Mesopotamia, or even from the Maghreb, is a point upon which I should not like to insist. But this much does seem to follow from a study of history of the monuments, that the old idea of the Ziggurat or tower in some way connected with worship at a shrine has filtered down to us through the Mohammedan minaret and finds its expression to-day in our church steeple.

To say nothing to these illiterates that Islam and the Muslims have been an integral part and influence on Europe, and have had a presence there, since nearly 700 years. Europe’s ability to extricate itself from the horrors of the dark ages, and to pull itself onto the path of the enlightenment, could only have happened because of the deep-seated Islamic presence and influence on her culture, knowledge, society, intelligentsia, and politics. To say nothing about the introduction of decent hygiene!

Juan Cole penned an angry piece, title Bigotry Wins in Switzerland, in response to the Swiss-cheese-like thinking that led to this dark moment in European history. He reminds us that:

Switzerland is said to be 5 percent Muslim, and of course this proportion is a recent phenomenon there and so unsettling to some. But Islam is not new to Europe. Parts of what is now Spain were Muslim for 700 years, and much of the eastern stretches of what is now the European Union were ruled by Muslims for centuries and had significant Muslim populations. Cordoba and Sarajevo are not in Asia or Latin America. They are in Europe. And they are cities formed in the bosom of Muslim civilization.

For those of you looking for a more thorough examination of Europe’s real history, and the impact of Islamic heritage on her modernity and present, I would recommend Maria Rosa Menocal’s book  Ornament Of The World, and/or David Levering Lewis’ God’s Crucible: Islam & The Making Of Europe 570-1250 or even Jack Goody’s remarkable insights in works like Islam In Europe.

Switzerland is merely the beginning of this sordid episode. Europe’s hideous shift to the right will continue to make matters difficult for the region’s Muslim populations. Hence it becomes even more imperative that we know how to speak back – with history on our side and with the truths that can cut past the bigoted simplicities, delusions and paranoia being used to defend imagined and ahistorical ideas about Europe, her heritage and her culture. The false claims to a purely Judeo-Christian heritage are as meaningless as the claims to a purely Greco-Roman intellectual inheritance. I have written about this delusion in a previous post titled What A Tangled Web We Weave.

May the battle go to the most intelligent, cogent and coherent.

The poster above has become the source of embarrassment and debate within Switzerland. Printed by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) it is part of their campaign to put a stop to the construction of mosques in the country, and raise their voices against the presence of ‘the other’. The poster depicts minarets in the shape of missiles, and of course, the ubiquitous burqa-clad woman who apparently represents Islam. As explained in a recent piece in Spiegel magazine called Why The Swiss Are Afraid Of Minarets the poster and campaign was the idea of …

…a German man who is behind the successful anti-minaret campaign. The 46-year-old from Hamburg moved to Switzerland after completing his university studies. He worked as a journalist for the conservative Schweizerzeit newspaper and later for the anti-Islam newspaper Bürger und Christ, or “Citizens and Christ,” in which he wrote tirades against a liberal society. “I’ve been able to be active with the SVP on referendum and election campaigns for years,”

Many cities in Switzerland have banned the poster.

But once again, I disagree with this decision. I think that all cities should allow this poster to be shown and distributed. It is the only way that we can reveal the hatred and racism that informs this campaign and confront it head on. But unless we bring these paranoia and delusions into the open, unless we create an environment where these hate-mongers and racists can be directly confronted and challenged, we will not eliminate this scourge from amongst us.

Banning it will only force it to where we cannot confront it, and remove it, and will empower the instigators of this campaign to continue to spread their hateful message but in more insidious and covert ways.

It is clearly obvious that the Swiss are intelligent enough to see the dangers of this campaign, and the racism that informs it. As the Spiegel piece points out:

The minaret initiative is so radical for a Western country that even some die-hard members of the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) are uncomfortable about it. The former party president and current defense minister Ueli Maurer said he was “not totally happy” about it. It probably breaches the consitutional right to religious freedom and could do further damage to Switzerland’s international reputation which has already suffered in recent months from the UBS debacle in the US and accusations that Switzerland is a haven for tax evaders. The case could even provoke the same kind of violent reaction in Muslim countries as the publication of cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers did four years ago.

There is in fact no point in a ‘violent’ reaction. This is a stupid campaign, by stupid men, and based on stupid assumptions and prejudices. They can be easily, and rather casually, challenged, undermined and eliminated.

There will always be extremists – the ones who are scared, and confused in the face of a changing world and a modernity that seems to be leaving them behind. Rewarding them with public censure only encourages their behavior because it offers them the victory of ‘victimhood’ and ‘martyrdom’. We should not do so.

Print the posters!

I suggest we all print them and hang them up in our homes if for no other reason than to remind us that our silence or our attempts to silence them will in fact be the reason for the ideas that inform this poster to become reality.

Print the posters.

SVP, please send me a copy!

You may also want to read Pankaj Mishra’s piece A Paranoid, Abhorrent Obsession and I quote the paragraph that obviously is an influence and an inspiration for my stand here:

It is a depressing spectacle – talented writers nibbling on cliches picked to the bone by tabloid hacks. But, as Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pointed out, the “men of culture”, with their developed faculty of reasoning, tend to “give the hysterias of war and the imbecilities of national politics more plausible excuses than the average man is capable of inventing”. The “public conversation” about Islam…should not be avoided. Its terms have already been set low, and the bigger danger is that it will be dominated by an isolated and vain chattering class that, rattled by a changing world, seeks to reassure us by digging an unbridgeable trench around our minds and hearts.