Sunday, 29 November 2009

Swiss No to minarets ─Yes to what?

Among eurobloggers at least Julien Frisch and Gulf Stream Blues have already reacted clearly against the Swiss referendum banning minarets. Erkan’s Field Diary says it at least as forcefully in a blog post he has promised to update soon: In Switzerland, Fascism seems to be getting ground…

I wrote a comment on Julien’s blog, but thought that I might post it on Grahnlaw as well:


I agree with much of what you say. This is a sad day for Europe, of which Switzerland is a part, although somewhat apart.

A cynical campaign to sow discord has "succeeded" to do that. When we think of the disproportionate reactions to an individual Danish cartoonist and a newspaper acting within the rules of free speech, this manifestation of the will of a nation will cause feelings of humiliation and anger, easy to exploit for hate-preachers, putting Swiss diplomatic missions, firms and expats at risk (and perhaps others).

This is once again an example of the effects of referendums. Women's suffrage at the federal level was approved only in 1971 in Switzerland.

Representative democracy is to a large extent majority rule, but combined with provisions for the protection of freedoms (unalienable rights, respect for human dignity) it can help build more tolerant societies.

As you say, these questions are difficult:

I would not be comfortable with muezzins calling the faithful to prayer six times a day if using loudspeakers to overpower everything else in the vicinity, but I do not mind church bells ringing at times.

I feel split about crucifixes in secular state schools; should they be abolished through the courts, or should we tolerate different customs?

How about clothing and other symbols? Can you study, work and interact as a free citizen, if you wear a burqa? Can anyone condone genital mutilation?

Somehow we need to look for answers together, at a European level, learning from mistakes, but somehow we should preserve a sense of humanity in our efforts.

Prejudices and referendums are a lethal combination. The Swiss have shown us that.


In Europe as a whole and in the European Union, we cannot turn the clock back. Cultural diversity and different beliefs need to be protected, as long as they cause no real harm to the rights of others. These difficult issues are common concerns, and we need to discuss them at European level.

Ralf Grahn

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