Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the construction of new minarets last November, to the howls of bien-pensant rage at home and abroad. The proposal was supported by 57.5 percent of the participating voters and 22 of the 26 Swiss cantons. It was originally drafted in May 2007 by a group of conservative politicians, known as the Egerkingen Committee, after the federal supreme court overrode the objections of the local community and approved the construction of a minaret by the Turkish Cultural Association in the northern town Wangen bei Olten.
The ensuing campaign by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) at the local level against the erection of new minarets was blocked by cantonal authorities who claimed that the demands were unconstitutional. A federal popular initiative was launched instead; such initiatives, which require at least 100,000 signatures, are not subject to judicial review. The Egerkingen Committee argued that the construction of a minaret has no religious meaning: “Neither in the Qur’an nor in any other holy scripture of Islam is the minaret expressly mentioned. It is more a symbol of [a] religious-political power claim.” The initiators quoted an eminent Islamist, current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who declared in a 1997 speech that “mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers—and this holy army guards my religion.”
The Swiss elite class was indignant. The government opposed the initiative from the outset because it supposedly violates human rights and contradicts the alleged “core values” of the Swiss constitution. The Federal Assembly voted 129 to 50 last spring to recommend to Swiss voters that they vote “no.” The local Amnesty International chairman said the minaret ban “aims to exploit fears of Muslims and encourage xenophobia.” Business associations expressed fears for Swiss commercial interests abroad. A statement from the Swiss Catholic Bishops Conference claimed the ban would “hinder interreligious dialogue” and added, somewhat lamely, that the construction of minarets was already regulated by Swiss building codes. The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches repeated similar platitudes. The president of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, Dr. Herbert Winter, recalled the dark days when “we were not allowed to construct synagogues or cupola roofs.”
The reaction in the Muslim world was predictable and uninteresting. The Eurocrats’ reaction, just as predictable, contained the alarming hint that a judicial annulment of the decision was desirable and probably inevitable. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the ban amounted to religious oppression and expressed hope that the Swiss would reverse the decision. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the result was a sign of prejudice and questioned why such a decision was put to a referendum in the first place.
Legal experts opposing the ban claim that the narrowly aimed language of the referendum question violated the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, and Switzerland is party to both. They place special hopes in Article 9 of the European Convention, which says, “Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” The first complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was filed by Algerian-born Hafid Ouardiri, the former spokesman for the Geneva mosque, who says he is acting on behalf of all Swiss who feel the way he does about the decision.
Ulrich Schlüer, the SVP deputy who led the ban campaign, points out that the European Court had recently ruled against permitting crucifixes in classrooms of Italian schools. “It now appears that Christian towns are not supposed to use Christian symbols,” he said. “But we are supposed to have Muslim symbols.” The SVP insists that allowing the Strasbourg court to overturn the referendum result would breach the popular sovereignty that underpins Swiss democratic institutions and tradition.
The upholders of diversity, tolerance, etc., will not be impressed by “institutions” and “tradition.” They want each European nation to adopt, or at least to accept, a vote of no confidence in itself. They will probably succeed in having a panel of judges—recruited from the same stratum as themselves, and sharing the same pathologies—declare the Swiss vote illegal. But that is not important. What matters is that the gap between them and the people will continue to grow wider by the day, from Denmark to Italy, from Holland to Austria. The underground dialogue on the true nature of Islam, and the threat it presents to Europe’s nations and societies, is the only dialogue there is. It can no longer be stifled by judicial fiat, even if the Swiss vote is abrogated, and even if Geert Wilders is sent to jail after his forthcoming trial in Amsterdam.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic's latest book is The Krajina Chronicle: A History of the Serbs in Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia.
This article first appeared in the February 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.