Mountains and Minarets

To attribute the Swiss vote to ban minarets to “Islamophobia” is perhaps to miss the point. If the Swiss and other Europeans – many of whom would vote for a similar ban if given the chance – were self-assured about their own identities, their Muslim fellow-citizens would not strike such fear in their hearts.

New York – Switzerland has four mosques with minarets and a population of 350.000 nominal Muslims, mostly Europeans from Bosnia and Kosovo, of which about 13% regularly go to prayer. Not a huge problem, one might have thought. Yet 57.5% of Swiss voters opted in a referendum for a constitutional ban on minarets, allegedly because of worries about “fundamentalism” and the “creeping Islamization” of Switzerland.

Are the Swiss more bigoted than other Europeans? Probably not. Referendums are a measure of popular gut feelings, rather than considered opinion, and popular gut feelings are rarely liberal. Referendums on this issue in other European countries might well produce startlingly similar results.

To attribute the Swiss vote to ban minarets – an idea that was promoted by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, but by none of the other political parties – to “Islamophobia” is perhaps to miss the point. To be sure, a long history of mutual Christian-Muslim hostility, and recent cases of radical Islamist violence, have made many people fearful of Islam in a way that they are not of Hinduism, say, or Buddhism. And the minaret, piercing the sky like a missile, is easily caricatured as a fearsome image.

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