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Recently, a Swiss referendum called for a ban on the construction of minarets, religious structures used for prayer at mosques. The vote was supposed to “not [be] a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture,” according to proponents, but instead to make a statement against some of the more distasteful practices of Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as genital mutilation. But this egregious and discriminatory measure is not an effective censure of objectionable behaviors. It is an unacceptable solution that discriminates against the 400,000 Muslims who currently reside in Switzerland and flies in the face of the nation’s long history of respect for religious freedom.
A ban on the construction of minarets won’t stop harmful practices like genital cutting—the connection between the two is tenuous to say the least. The use of minarets is not even limited to fundamentalist Islamic groups. Therefore, the results of the referendum serve no purpose other than needlessly alienating and insulting the Muslim community.
Furthermore, the consequences of this textbook example of the tyranny of the majority can be a boon to the cause of radical Islamic groups, who can look for new potential recruits amongst an increasingly alienated Swiss Muslim population. By voting in line with the rhetoric of fear, the Swiss people bypassed minority rights in favor of a perverse and ineffective solution to a problem that only exists in one niche portion of the Muslim community.
The advertisements that accompanied this crusade against religious freedom play on this fear, and reveal how thoroughly it has stifled reason. One picture depicts seven imposing black minarets pinning the Swiss flag to the ground, with a Muslim woman clad in full Muslim garb at the forefront. Besides the fact that the minarets depicted are the wrong color and that there are only four existing minarets in Switzerland, the picture does not just represent radical Islamic practices as a threat to Switzerland, but rather Islam itself as a threat to Switzerland.
The intentions of the people who put together the ultimately successful campaign are misguided at best and openly bigoted at worst. Legitimate justifications for banning a harmless religious structure are frustratingly hard to pin down. But one thing is clear—the Swiss government and the Swiss people must take very immediate steps to right this wrong.
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