Fifty-seven and a half percent of Swiss voters have approved an initiative that bans the building of minarets on Swiss territory. I personally do not see much merit in the proposal, and, had I been a Swiss voter, would probably have voted No. Now whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal, it was a democratically-arrived decision, a peaceful action, subject, like all such decisions, to discussion and possible reversal in the future.
But to judge by the hysterical and incendiary editorial of the New York Times, this decision by Swiss voters was the moral equivalent of an Islamist suicide attack:
Disgraceful. That is the only way to describe the success of a right-wing initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland, where 57 percent of voters cast ballots for a bigoted and mean-spirited measure….. the worst response to extremism and intolerance is extremism and intolerance.
No, this initiative does not constitute “extremism and intolerance” in the same way that, say, a suicide attack is “extremism and intolerance.” The murder of innocent people is irreversible, while a democratic vote, in principle, is not.
The educated classes, in Switzerland and especially elsewhere, had condemned this initiative. Like the Sarah Palin phenomenon in the United States, the vote constituted a revolt by the Swiss electorate, more in the rural districts than in the cities, against the learned advice of their enlightened betters. The vote was also a response to perceived threats from Islamic immigrants to traditional lifestyles. The Swiss-based journalist Daniel Ammann, without in any way endorsing the initiative, does what the finger-wagging New York Times editorialists cannot get themselves to do; he provides some cultural context to the vote:
A majority of Swiss voters obviously feels that there are problems with Muslim integration into civil society at the moment. This vague sentiment was fueled by a number of incidents over the last years: The former Imam of a mosque in Geneva, Hani Ramadan, a Swiss citizen by the way, publicly justified the stoning of adulterers or the punitive amputation of the hand of a thief. Muslim parents prevented their daughters from attending swimming classes, gymnastics or summer camps in public schools because they didn’t want their girls to be together with boys. Media reports about forced marriages, female genital mutilations and “honor killings” of Muslim women – all confirmed by authorities or in court — came as a shocking surprise. A university professor even went as far as to suggest in an official publication of a federal commission to introduce elements of the Sharia, the Muslim legal system, into Switzerland.
To repeat, neither Ammann nor I would have voted for this initiative. But, at the very least, let’s try to go beyond condemnation to understanding.