Monday, November 30, 2009

The Swiss Ban Minarets

I have two reactions to the news from Switzerland, where voters approved a law that bans all new minarets. The first is that it is wrong, and the second is that everyone should have seen it coming. I think anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe is still at the bottom of a slope that has a long way to rise. I expect to see much more of far-right, anti-immigrant politicians and their parties, and I expect to see more measures like this minaret ban and the French head scarf ban. Many Europeans feel that their identities are under siege, and they are going to lash out. Their hostility is fully reciprocated by many European Muslims, who give at least verbal support to terrorists. I don't want to exaggerate; obviously no European country has yet elected a government sworn to stop immigration, and many Muslim immigrants are quite happy to be in secular Europe. But the tensions are there and they are not going away.

I don't believe that freedom of religion means the freedom to do anything one might call religious. I believe that prominent religious buildings should go through the same kind of reviews that all plans for large buildings go through in a country like Switzerland. And if there are good reasons for not building a large mosque or a tall minaret somewhere -- because it is a historic district or a scenic tourist town or what have you, I have no problem with saying no. But to ban all minarets, even from the kind of grimy industrial suburbs where most Muslim immigrants live, without imposing any similar limits on church steeples, is just legalized hate. It has no justification other than to send a message that Muslims should not get too comfortable in the country. I think it is an ominous sign that the political system in Europe is not dealing at all well with the issues raised by large numbers of immigrants, and that more, worse trouble could well be ahead.

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