Monday, November 30, 2009

Swiss Minarets

The majority of Swiss citizens have voted in a referendum to ban the construction of new minarets in Switzerland.

I walked beneath the minaret of a mosque on Atlantic Avenue this weekend, hearing the call of the muezzin. It was beautiful. He had a wonderful voice (and not all do!). I have often wondered why I don't hear the calls from home, and came to the conclusion that there must be some kind of decibel limit imposed by a noise ordinance? In Cape Town the call to prayer near the Bo Kaap is part of what makes the Cape the Cape. In Brooklyn it is part of what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn. In Istanbul it was bedlam, and beautiful.

Now, no one can accuse the Swiss - whose mountains I love - of major cultural diversity, but for a people renowned for tolerance (to those with money?), this is a shocking vote for racism.

14 comments:

  1. Indeed, given how many Calvinists helped to shape the "neutrality" of the country.

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  2. No kidding. This is a total travesty.

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  3. It never works in the long run. History if full of church bans. Pray in the basement, the attic, or the grove.

    I like the call to prayer I hear carried on the winds of kensington.

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  4. gretta and i heard this news on npr driving home from vermont this afternoon and were shocked! SHOCKED!

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  5. What you say is very true and a big step back for religious tolerance.

    I do however think the Muslims that is up in arms about this is extremely hypocritical. You don't see them call for equal treatment of other religions in Muslim countries, where much harsher bans is in place on non-Muslims.

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  6. Apparently the denizens of Geneva and Zurich were less hasty to vote against the minarets, leaving the knee jerk to their country folk.

    SA Expats - sure it's hypocrtitical if 'the Muslims' are up in...er, arms about it, but let's remember that most followers of Islam are not fundamentalists. It's just that fundamentalists, everyhwere, shout the loudest and do the most damage.

    Religion of most stripes is off- putting to me. It is so often a veil behind which prejudice flourishes as it signals the end of question-asking, regardless of the religion chosen.

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  7. There has been a growing resentment in Quebec about us, being so liberal, bending over backwards to accomodate the religious demands of foreign religions, sometimes infringing on our on freedom in the process. The feeling is that we try so hard to be welcoming and flexible whereas those we thus welcome are demanding and unbending and want to impose their ways. So I'll be the lone "evil" voice here to say: "Good for Switzerland!" Now hold me in contempt if you wish.

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  8. Sigrid - the giveaway phrase of 'bending over backwards' gave me some hint as to your opinion before I read to the end :-)

    Combating prejudice with prejudice is not the answer, though it is the most common response.

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  9. Prejudice!!! lol...ok, maybe I asked for that. I'd like to claim that being biased is different from being prejudiced but let's keep our long arguments for when we're chopping veggies together ;)

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  10. Sigrid- maybe we should leave the knives in the drawers! Forearmed is forewarned. Heheheheh.

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  11. These minarets in a Swiss poster look like n-warheads in a Swiss garden. And doesn't the veiled woman look ominous? I agree with Frank -- "never works in the long run" -- but the interim stinks.

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  12. oops, forgot the link.

    http://www.juancole.com/2009/11/swiss-islamophobia-betrays.html

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  13. I'm thinking about people I know who really can't stand church bells ringing. Fear or personal experience with the church they were raised with seem to bring this out. Call me a pollyana, but I simply hear modest music. I do not feel oppressed by this "call to prayer."

    That said, tribalism in such a crowded world is noxious to it.

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  14. I read a column (I wish I could remember where---maybe NYT? maybe BBC online?) in which the writer noted an interesting sidebar to this Swiss minaret story. This ruling came about through a purely democratic process -- by national referendum. In countries, like the US, where rulings occur only through representative government, such a ban would be less likely to occur b/c representatives often vote not in line with perceived public sentiment but in line with what's deemed to be best for the society--an arguable point of view obviously but one that gave me pause.
    A French columnist said that he thinks the French citizens would possibly vote the same way if they had a similar system of government -- one that allowed a direct referendum on a particular question. And then I read this, from BBC online: "...Marine Le Pen, the deputy-leader of France's far-right National Front, praised the outcome, and said France should now hold a wider referendum on multiculturalism."
    And, one last observation, before the vote, polling in Switzerland indicated that the public would not ban minarets. But when the voting was over, 57% said "ban them," suggesting that citizens said one thing to the pollsters but voted the other way when the curtain was drawn.
    I too was shocked by the Swiss ruling but I'm not sure why. The more I learn about the world the less shocked I should be at anything.

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