Islam is making an impact on Europe – and Europe, or parts of it, seems to be fighting back (see the news item on page 25 and the cartoon on page 14). Last week the Swiss made news – welcome to many who fear the Muslims in their midst as well as the encroachment of Islam on their culture – by voting to ban minarets next to mosques. At present there are only four of these tall, slender towers – and 350,000 Muslims in a population of 8 million – throughout the land of chocolate, cheese, and clocks, but 57.5 percent of Swiss voters apparently viewed them as a threat of more minarets and Muslims to come.
We can understand a desire to maintain one’s identity. The Jews have been working at that for centuries, and Israel for all of its young life. Even municipalities and gated communities strive to protect their identities, imposing restrictions on what may be built where.
But the Swiss ban is more than a zoning law, more than a law that a building may be just so high and no higher. You can be sure that church steeples will continue to rise. The famously neutral Swiss – some might say infamously, given the nation’s poor record during World War II – have declared war on their own citizens, or immigrants, who may be Muslim.
That is unacceptable, and Jews in particular, whose history is unfortunately replete with bans and destruction of our institutions, should speak out against this brand of religious intolerance. As the Jewish Chronicle’s Website thejc.com reported, “The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities has been vocal against the ban. Dr. Herbert Winter, its president, said: ‘As Jews we have our own experience. For centuries we were excluded: we were not allowed to construct synagogues. We do not want that kind of exclusion repeated.’ ”
The Anti-Defamation League, among other groups critical of the ban, noted in a statement that “[t]his is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance. A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population.”
It is important to note that only 55 percent of Swiss voters turned out for the minaret referendum, called by the far-right Swiss People’s Party. All of Switzerland has not gone over to the right.
The ADL pointed out that “[t]he Swiss government opposed the initiative during the campaign and underscored its commitment to religious freedom in a statement after the vote.”
Switzerland should take care. While it certainly should beware of religious extremism, it should also be wary of those who would limit religious freedom.