Swiss minarets

by on November 29, 2009 at 10:21 pm in Law, Religion | Permalink


I have a few points:

1. Sooner or later an open referendum process will get even a very smart, well-educated country into trouble.

2. Given that the referendum came up, it was wise to root for its defeat.  The victory of the referendum is a symbol that prejudice can now advance a step.

3. That said, was there not some other way to sidestep this dilemma?  Washington D.C. doesn't allow tall buildings to compete with the Washington Monument, yet no one considers that a restriction on political freedom (though it may be a bad idea for economic reasons).  The Swiss cantons could have done the same for their town churches.  Note that a restriction on a minaret is not a restriction on a mosque.

4. I favor greater Muslim immigration into the United States and I think Muslim emigration to Europe is working better than most people think.  I am happy to see that Switzerland has become a more cosmopolitan society, in large part by taking in more emigrants, including Muslims.  Nonetheless, call me old-fashioned, but I don't think a Swiss town center should look like the photograph above.  I guess the Swiss don't either. 

5. I also don't have any problem with Mecca limiting the size of Christian churches in that town, or say if an American billionaire wanted to build a really big cross there.  (Oddly Dubai allows it.)

6. The United States is special and thus it allows a very, very large mosque not so far from Bowling Green, Ohio.  I am pleased we have the sort of polity which makes this possible, but I also recognize many other countries cannot inhabit this same political space.

7. The overall lesson is that knowing how and when to defuse an issue is one very large part of political wisdom.  The Swiss usually pass this test but this time they failed it.

ThomasH November 29, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Surey you know that no church of any size is allowed anywhere in Saui Arabia. No that THAT justifies the Swiss referendum.

Daniel November 29, 2009 at 11:04 pm

A point about Mecca – there aren’t any churches there, nor could an American billionaire build a really big cross there, because there aren’t any Christians. Only Muslims are allowed to go to Mecca and Medina – the Saudi authorities check your ID card (which lists your religion) at checkpoints on the highways going into town, and if it doesn’t say “Muslim” then they turn you back to Jeddah, or whever you were coming from.

So, I think it would be safe to say that Mecca has a rather severe restriction on the size of chruches there!

However, I don’t think that you can argue that the situation in Mecca is analagous to the situation in Switzerland simply because Switzerland doesn’t occupy nearly so significant a place in Christianity as Mecca does in Islam.

Constant November 29, 2009 at 11:08 pm

There’s a problem with mosque minarets. They aren’t just inert architectural features. They have a function, and the function is highly intrusive. The minarets are used to call the faithful to prayer five times a day. This would work just fine in a town that was entirely or almost entirely Muslim. Every resident would look upon this as a valuable service. But it would be intrusive to a non-Muslim living in the same area. Coasean considerations might (or might not, I’m just speculating) recommend allowing minarets and blocking lawsuits against minarets in Muslim-majority areas, and conversely in Muslim-minority areas. Also, if a town started out as Muslim then I could see grandfathering them in, due to a superior historical claim on the public space. But if a town starts out non-Muslim, then I could likewise see grandfathering in sweet silence.

Brian Hall November 29, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Actually, not only are there no churches allowed in Mecca, no non-Muslims are allowed in Mecca either.

Living in the UAE for three years taught me that not only do Muslims have more religious freedom in the US than Christians do in the Middle East, but they have more freedom in the US than Muslims have in the Middle East. Two examples: in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi it is illegal for Shiites to sound their call to prayer and all Friday sermons must be pre-approved by the government.

Tomasz Wegrzanowski November 29, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Allowing or not minarets as such seems fairly irrelevant. Mosques are not affected, so there are no religious freedoms in danger here.

It’s a lot like EU constitution referenda – question asked and what people voted about were only vaguely related.

Don D. November 29, 2009 at 11:52 pm

The Swiss churches weren’t always there, they replaced previous pagan sites and other buildings, and they will get replaced in turn. I’d recommend a meritocratic route: let the prettiest buildings win.

J November 30, 2009 at 12:14 am

“The victory of the referendum is a symbol that prejudice can now advance a step”

What the hell are you smoking? We’re talking about an architectural restriction. Note to Tyler: Don’t buy a house in a neighborhood with an HOA.

“I favor greater Muslim immigration into the United States and I think Muslim emigration to Europe is working better than most people think”

I’m happy to take all the Muslim immigrants who want to come, as long as they want to assimilate. I get really sick of hearing about multiculturalism and diversity; there’s a reason things suck where these folks came from. Motivated immigrants are always welcome – the defects of their former culture, not so much.

As for Europe, by pretty much all accounts, the people who actually live there disagree. Talk to somebody other than professors and politicians next time you travel.

“I also don’t have any problem with Mecca limiting the size of Christian churches in that town”

I assume this is a joke.

Doc Merlin November 30, 2009 at 12:41 am

“I also don’t have any problem with Mecca limiting the size of Christian churches in that town”

Um, Christians can’t legally go to Mecca, so you don’t have Church buildings there.

Noah Yetter November 30, 2009 at 1:09 am

As to the issue of whether we should listen to what Europeans think about immigrants…

Americans are highly biased against immigrants too, no matter how much we (and they) benefit from allowing them in. If Muslim immigrants to Europe all had PhDs and worked 80 hour weeks and paid double the taxes, European natives, just like Americans, would STILL hate them and wish they would leave.

This is not an argument in favor of greater Muslim immigration. I am simply pointing out that the opinions of natives are completely useless.

Kristian November 30, 2009 at 2:50 am

This is a bad signal, even if it is only a building restriction, and I suppose people are more upset about the motivation of the voters than about its practical consequences.

Ad 4.: Well, yes, and perhaps they should not build American megachurches there either, but if that is the goal, why not just legislate that new buildings should have the same scale and style as the existing ones? Minarets could be made to look a bit more like church towers and we’d be fine.

@Constant: Like church towers and church bells?

kevin November 30, 2009 at 3:24 am

Hooray! I drive past the 1-75 mosque (the one near Bowling Green) every day, and I like it. It’s such a dramatic sight, in the midst of a very flat, slightly boring stretch of road. Seeing it reminds me when to turn onto 1-75 from I-475.

Also, the mosque is much closer to Perrysburg than Bowling Green.

Marian Kechlibar November 30, 2009 at 3:52 am

J. Goard: I am big supporter of … official multilingualism.

What do you find so appealing about official multilingualism? Have you ever seen it in practice? It is an enormous drain of public money to have everything translated several times. Ask the Belgians or the Canadians if the money thus spent could not have been used for something else.

From my experience, most Americans do not really realize what “official multilingualism” means and how it creates a state-confirmed segregation, where various linguistic groups live separately and look at the others as the Others. A good way to Balkanize otherwise successful society.

Can you imagine us two communicating if we actually talked our native languages and insisted on translation of everything?

Markus Schaer November 30, 2009 at 3:58 am

I very much appreciate what you know about Switzerland, Tyler, but in this case you’re wrong. The referendum wasn’t really about minarets, but about Muslims who come to Switzerland but refuse to talk to female teachers, enforce marriages in their home countries, forbid their children to swim in school or to go to school before Christian holidays, listen to preachers who hatefully damn Western culture, have their daughters mutilated and so on. Switzerland always was and still is a very tolerant country (four languages, several religions, more than 20 percent foreigners) – it would even be better if we had an American immigration policy that forces immigrants to assimilate.

David November 30, 2009 at 5:36 am

As an American living in Switzerland, I have followed this whole story with great interest (even though I couldn’t vote in the referendum). A couple of points:

1. The Call to Prayer was already banned, based on noise pollution laws. So any new minarets would have strictly visual impact.

2. The Swiss are incredibly protective of the “look” of Switzerland. Ads to buy or rent an apartment focus on the view more than the number of bedrooms. Building permits are issued only after a period where the corners of the proposed building are marked with poles, so that neighbors can judge the impact on the view. Dairy farmers are highly subsidized, because what would Switzerland look like without cows? U.s.w.

3. Because the permitting process is so strict and involves so much citizen input, minarets were effectively impossible to build anyway. This whole referendum, in my opinion, was a political stunt by the Swiss People’s Party. But it will have long-standing negative consequences, I fear.

Bob Knaus November 30, 2009 at 6:25 am

Say what you will about Christianity no longer influencing politics in Europe, symbolism matters. That’s a Christian cross on the Swiss flag. The sophisticated and secular citizens of the Scandinavian countries have crosses on their flags too.

The USA may be far more religious than Europe, but at least the Stars & Stripes are symbolically secular.

Of course, we do have In God We Trust plastered all over our money, from the smallest coin to the largest note. This should provide some clue as to the deity we truly worship.

Millian November 30, 2009 at 6:38 am

Shorter Steve Sailer: People who feel, not think, about issues are correct.

JSK November 30, 2009 at 6:58 am

In my experience, the difference between nominally Christian parties in Europe, and, say, Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries is that the Christian parties are actually much milder and do not try to impose religious/Biblical standards on the community.

The Netherlands. You’re right that christian democrats are no Muslim Brotherhood, but that wasnt what you claimed. You’re wrong on christian parties not trying to impose their standards on the community. My home town passed a municipal law making swearing in public a misdemeanor, for example.

Rajan R November 30, 2009 at 7:28 am

Tyler, assuming a Gothic cathedral with several spires went into disuse and was both by a Muslim organization to be converted into a mosque. It has no impact on the surrounding community – the same, Swiss architecture. But now, under this referendum, it is banned. Therefore, it isn’t a matter about architectural taste – it is a matter of religious discrimination. At least the French had the good sense to ban all ostentatious religious symbols, not just the headscarf.

Constant: What about church steeples/spires and the accompanying church bells?

Marian Kechlibar: Ban political Islam then, not some religious symbol used by *both* liberal/moderate and fundamentalist Muslims.

Markus Schaer, if assimilation is a problem is status quo (which is redundant because of the extreme difficulty of getting a Swiss citizenship), I can’t imagine banning miranets will be helpful. Its funny though, in a country where a kid from Geneva won’t be forced to learn German is worried about Muslim kids abstaining from swimming lessons.

Ryan November 30, 2009 at 7:37 am

I don’t know anything about the Swiss referendum, however there is a lot of bigotry in these comments. You folks need to learn that there is a difference between e.g. the government of Saudi Arabia and the people of Saudi Arabia. Not every government policy reflects the will of the people; thank god there are plenty of Swiss who are likewise not so bigoted.

And this piece of rubbish is the most disgusting display of tribalism I’ve seen on MR yet: “Nonetheless, call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think a Swiss town center should look like the photograph above.”

All the worse so since Tyler isn’t actually Swiss!

I don’t browse bigoted websites. Khoda hafez.

Beefcake the Mighty November 30, 2009 at 8:25 am

Would Tyler favor increased Muslim immigration to Israel? Just wondering.

Perig November 30, 2009 at 8:42 am

Ryan: Az-dastesh khalas showdeem.

El Kabong November 30, 2009 at 9:29 am

I applaud the Swiss people for the following:
1: Voting to RETAIN the culture which is inherent in their OWN country/society.
2: Sending a message to the world that they see Switzerland as STILL THEIR OWN country.
3: Informing those in the Swiss government that it is STILL THE SWISS PEOPLE who make the decisions rather than how it was for their 1930s northern neighbors and the current U.S.A.
4: Standing up to rude invasions of their SWISS societal homeland which was formed by the SWISS PEOPLE and NOT by the interlopers.

Yes, I applaud the Swiss people.
I only wish my fellow Americans had the stones to stand up for America as, America is all butt disappeared and, I know some will be happy about that.
The ones who will be happy about that are the uneducated fools who actually believe that the U.S. government represents the American people.
Those evil thieves do NOT represent us.

Beefcake the Mighty November 30, 2009 at 10:10 am

“Why does Tyler shy away from the hard questions?”

Obviously, if he didn’t shy away (or at least didn’t give the “right” answers to those questions) he’d lose his job as court libertarian at the NY Times.

Diversity November 30, 2009 at 10:57 am

The Swiss might try a version of the Egyptian rule on Christian bell towers. The Christians are welcome to build them, but they must be less high than any neighboring minarets.

Jim November 30, 2009 at 11:22 am

“I think Muslim emigration to Europe is working better than most people think.”

Why? Just wishful thinking, or do you have some facts to share about this?

It sure didn’t work out for Theo van Gogh, I’ll tell you that.

Stephen Sailor November 30, 2009 at 11:48 am

I dislike intellectuals, they are too anti-xenophobic to be useful. Must… not.. go gentle into that good night.

PeterW November 30, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Interestingly the Swiss vote was the result of a feminist/nationalist coalition against Islam. Meanwhile Western feminists support Islam because it stands against Western thought, in an enemy-of-my-enemy way.

urgs November 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Since when are the Suiss well educated? They have record low University graduation rates and record low rates of longer school attendance for a developed country.

Zach November 30, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Swiss Muslims should embrace this amendment, but argue that under other provisions of the Swiss constitution banning religious discrimination it be extended to all phallic religious architecture. Mosques can be built featuring equally impressive domes, while modern Roman Catholic construction almost always relies upon spires, etc. Advantage: Islam.

More seriously, arguments that this is more or less OK because it has no practical effect on the practice of religion (they can still build mosques, etc) are absurd in the face of the long history of bigotry. With an identical argument, you can say separate-but-equal segregation is really nothing to fret about.

While the ban on tall buildings is irrational in DC, I enjoy the Islamic influences in the Mall’s architecture.

EU populus November 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Long time reader, first time commenter.

From my experience, attitudes of Europeans towards islam and mohammedans have hardened considerably in the last decade.

When the whole grand multicultural experiment began in the early 1990s, people were willing to give immigration a chance. If it was real good will, or just unwillingness to be labeled racist and bigot (see Ryan over there – a good example of the obnoxious shouting diversity fanatic), can’t be said. But it was up to the immigrants themselves to show their colors. Quite a lot of immigrant groups have caught this chance and proved themselves well. As one of the above commenters stated, no one (except a ridiculous fringe) seems to detest Sikhs or Hindus or Vietnamese. Although they are culturally alien, they have “integrated” (ah, the holy world of today’s politics) themselves into European society quite well.

Not so with Muslims. They seem never to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Since the 1990s, the muslim immigrants have worked hard to create an absolutely awful P.R. for themselves and Islam. From the fact that young Muslims constitute huge majorities of convicted violent criminals in quite a lot of countries, continuing with all the P.R. disasters like Erdogan’s quote (about minarets and bayonets), Muhammad cartoons violence and honor killings in the streets, Islamist demonstrations of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and down to the world stage, with all the fanatics exploding themselves in Israel and Iraq … frankly, if I were a peaceful Muslim in Europe today, I would despair for the actions of my dumb co-religionists. Islam is synonymous with violent trouble and intimidation today, and it is not someone else’s fault.

We will live in interesting times…

DCBob November 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I was hoping they would allow the minarets but require that the call to prayer be in Switzerdeutsch. “Es gibt kein Gott aber Allah” certainly gets your attention, doesn’t it?

Constant November 30, 2009 at 1:32 pm

@Kristian: Like church towers and church bells?


@Rajan What about church steeples/spires and the accompanying church bells?

Same applies.

Suppose you live in a quiet neighborhood and you’re not a Christian and the majority of your neighbors are not Christian, and someone installs a bell loud enough to be heard for miles near your home. Is that perfectly okay, or might there be a problem?

Larry November 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

I am pro-immigration, but not in favor of more Muslim immigration. I realize that the vast majority of Muslims in the US are peaceful and don’t participate in terrorism. But as the Muslim population here increases, and especially as we take it more people from the more radicalized Muslim countries, the Muslim communities here will be more hospitable to terrorists. This doesn’t mean that all of a sudden 10% of the Muslim population will start suicide-bombing. But it may mean that terrorists will find more support in mosques and madrassahs here. It may also take the form of political protection of groups such as CAIR. I think a certain non-Muslim Congressman from an area with lots of Muslims already runs interference for groups such as this.

My point is we can avoid these potential problems by drastically limiting further Muslim immigration to the US. I realize this will offend your sensibilities, but it might prevent a lot of violence in years to come.

Adam November 30, 2009 at 2:10 pm

Huh, look at all the squealing bigots. It’s hard to choose a favorite bigot, but I think I’ll go with Steve Sailer, for his suggestion that it’s somehow invalid (and elitist!) to ever disagree with a proposition that receives the support of a majority of voters. The “shorter” game is always funny! Ha ha, Steve Sailer, you’re a comedian!

Invalid Elitist November 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm

Let us make an idiot pageant. Ryan and Adam are favorites of this evening. But before choosing the idiot of the thread, let us request the following competition from them:
a) 500-word essay on “Celebrate the diversity and love Islam”,
b) catwalk in swimsuit.

josh November 30, 2009 at 3:09 pm

I, for one, find the very concept of Switzerland bigoted and offensive.

Invalid Elitist November 30, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Vasantha, all the bloody partition of British Raj into India and Pakistan, several hot wars between those countries ever since, and the everlasting conflict over Kashmir and the level of anti-Indian (-Pakistani) paranoia in Pakistan (India) indicates that even India can’t get all along with Islam.

The very name of Pakistan (land of the pure) is a spit into the face of India. It carries the old islamic concept of impure infidels who are not to be touched.

Carter November 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm

“I favor greater Muslim immigration into the United States”

“I am happy to see that Switzerland has become a more cosmopolitan society, in large part by taking in more emigrants, including Muslims.”

Yet you provide no explanation as to why.

Reading your opinions brings to mind the opening stanza of Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”. I’d suggest you read it but there’s no point. You’ve demonstrated an ability to consume considerable amounts of literature while remaining completely unaffected by any of it.

Zach November 30, 2009 at 4:44 pm

It’s amazing that the arguments against Muslim immigration and integration in Europe are perfectly identical to the arguments in favor of segregation 50-60 years ago in the United States. They are disproportionately criminals. Check. They won’t adopt our culture. Check. They don’t want to live by our laws. Check. They are uneducated, illiterate, and/or cannot speak our language properly. Check.

Yes, it’s simply a zoning law. Of course! There wasn’t much or any actual inconvenience associated with separate-but-equal segregation or being forced to wear the Star of David, either. The law is clearly rooted in bigotry and not aesthetic sensibilities.

Zach November 30, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Infinitely better than they were 60 years ago and constantly improving. What are you arguing against, exactly?

PQuincy November 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm

@ “They have a function, and the function is highly intrusive. The minarets are used to call the faithful to prayer five times a day.”

— Whereas church towers have no function, and don’t call worshipers to worship with extremely loud bells?

@ “Note to Tyler: Don’t buy a house in a neighborhood with an HOA.”

— Well, an HOA that allowed crosses in the front yard at Christmas, but banned a same-sized menorah, would almost certainly be unenforceable and violate state and Federal law.

@ “You totally ignore how Schweiz came to be organized as a Confederation in which the individual citizens of the Cantons direct the use of the instrumentalities of their Federal government.”

I know a little about the history of the Confederation. Individual citizens were late arrivals in its political system, which was always built around political communities, not individuals. Tyler may not know the full history, but his statements do not contradict the historical record, whereas yours do.

@ “What do you find so appealing about official multilingualism? Have you ever seen it in practice?”

— How funny. I HAVE seen it in practice…in Switzerland! It generates only modest friction, and works pretty well (disputes about when Romansh-speaking children must start German and French and English in school notwithstanding).

@ It’s “about Muslims who come to Switzerland but refuse to talk to female teachers, enforce marriages in their home countries, forbid their children to swim in school or to go to school before Christian holidays, listen to preachers who hatefully damn Western culture, have their daughters mutilated and so on.Switzerland always was and still is a very tolerant country.”

— Well, if it was about all those things, why do the words of the new Constitutional provision talk about “minarets”? Your argument suggests that the Swiss voters are either dishonest or duped, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, the claim about Swiss tolerance is oft-repeated but holds up primarily if tolerance means accepting things you already approve of. The Muslim community in Zurich has been trying for decades to get a Muslim graveyard approved, but has failed. Emmentaler Landsgemeinden systematically voted to deny citizenship applications from Serbs only a few years ago. The majority of Muslims in Switzerland don’t do most of the things you claim that this referendum was ‘about’ — a few do, to be sure, but then, if you were a convinced Christian and the ‘public’ school where you lived spent the days before Buddhist holidays on Buddhist ceremonies and teachings, even in a low-key way, you might want your children to stay home, too.

wevin November 30, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Cone on, guys, this isn’t merely an “architectural restriction,” it has everything to with freedom of religious expression. Not that the two things are mutually exclusive, but this is essentially an extension of the headscarf bans.

There are fair arguments to be made in this regard without disingenuously skirting the issue.

Zach November 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

“Assuming you actually believe this, you are living in a fantasy world.”

How so? Do you have a concrete example of how race relations in the States in 1950 were superior to race relations today?

lucklucky November 30, 2009 at 6:54 pm

“5. I also don’t have any problem with Mecca limiting the size of Christian churches in that town, or say if an American billionaire wanted to build a really big cross there. (Oddly Dubai allows it.)”

Outstanding ignorance. Saudi Arabia doesn’t allows any Church in the country.
Dubai allows it…Sadly your attempt at joke backfired Dubai specifically forbids every Church that show crosses or any Christian religious symbols. It can be a bland building, nothing more.

“I also don’t have any problem with Mecca limiting the size of Christian churches in that town”

Forgetting the ignorance, that Churches are forbidden in Saudi Arabia. So what is then your problem with Swiss referendum? Why did you want to root for its defeat?

I am a proponent of Market retribution. You seems to root for Religion imbalance without problem.

meter November 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Zach, comparisons between the black community in the US and muslim communities in Europe are disingenuous at best – and you know it.

Zach November 30, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Meter: I don’t know that I’m comparing race relations to Jim Crow era USA, but there’s a definite parallel between some of the rhetoric in this thread and the rhetoric supporting separate but equal segregation. Anyway, I was replying to this – “Hey Zach, how good are race relations in the US?” – so you might want to direct your scorn elsewhere.

meter November 30, 2009 at 10:54 pm

The difference, which should be apparent to a black American, is that blacks in America were brought and kept here under duress where Muslims emigrating to the EU are under no such predicament.

Generally it’s the responsibility of the person emigrating to assimilate into the host’s culture. Not the other way around.

David Wright December 1, 2009 at 12:49 am

Anyone who believes that there should be limits on democracy (i.e. rights) should grant Tyler that it is possible for a democratic vote to “fail this test” (i.e. violate rights). Such a line of reasoning may be “elitist” but that doesn’t make it wrong.

What I find odd about Tyler’s position isn’t that it’s elitist, but that it fails his own test. He seems to want what the referendum asks, but want it to be done in some subtle, sneaky way that doesn’t garner so much press. Assuming the referendum to be rights-violating, isn’t that just as bad, or even worse?

By the way, those highlighting asymmetries between the treatments of churches and mosques are arguing from a proposition that simply isn’t held by most of Europe. Most European constitutions have freedom-of-religion clauses, not non-establishment clauses, and those are not regarded as the same thing. That is, you are free to hold a non-traditional religious belief, but traditional churches are granted special status.

Zamfir December 1, 2009 at 3:11 am

Indian, I suppose you congratulated your neighbours on their good luck in getting Saudi money?

Marian Kechlibar December 1, 2009 at 4:20 am

JSK: What country do you live in? Britain?

I think it is not correct to view the anti-Islamic politicians over Europe as a homogeneous group. There is obvious difference between, say, BNP and the PVV in the Netherlands, where one of the most vocal anti-Islamic politicians actually was black Somalian ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

BNP and Front National are old parties with extremist past, and they just happened to discover Islam and immigration problems as a new theme.

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