Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Maybe we're lucky we don't live in Europe

I’ve been to Switzerland. I’ve always found the Swiss to be far more progressive people than us Americans. In fact the last time I went skiing in Lugano (2006), I came home speaking about how awesome it would be to live in a country as progressive as Switzerland.

So I was taken by suprise to see the results of a pretty scary referendum in the country.

Voters in Switzerland have approved a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques, official results show.

Of those who cast votes in Sunday’s poll, 57.5 per cent approved the ban, while only four cantons out of 26 rejected the proposals.

This is pretty shocking to me. I knew Islamophobia was on the rise in Europe, having experienced it in the Netherlands, France and Italy the last time I was there, but I thought this would be a bridge too far for most Europeans. I think this would be a bridge too far for most Americans.

Even so, Switzerland’s right wing politicians (whom we sometimes half-jokingly compare to our Democrats) channeled Michele Bachmann in defense of this;

Right wing politician Ulrich Schluer from the Swiss People’s Party told the Swiss website that minarets symbolize a political-religious claim to power.

“We do not forbid Islam — we forbid the political symbol of Islamization, and this is the minaret,” Schluer said. “The minaret has nothing to do with religion; the minaret is a symbol of political victory [of Islam]. The first thing the Turks did when they conquered Constantinople — they installed a minaret on the top of the most important church.”

A symbol of political victory? It’s the Islamic equivalent of a bell tower, which every Christian church has…and every European town has and admires. Where would we be without our Christian minarets? There would be no Leaning Tower of Pisa, or no St. Mark’s Campanile to copy for Epcot Center.

The Swiss results shouldn’t come as a surprise (though it did with me), considering the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment in Europe;

There have been French moves to ban the full-length body covering known as the burqa. Some German states have introduced bans on head scarves for Muslim women teaching in public schools. Mosques and minaret construction projects in Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia have been met by protests.

The ban passed in all but four of the country’s 26 cantons (states). So far, two of the states where the ban failed have been named; the French-speaking cantons of Vaud and Geneva, the fourth and fifth largest cantons in populations. Early polling indicated the ban would fail, leading some to question if there’s some sort of Bradley effect going on;

Sunday’s results stood in stark contrast to opinion polls, last taken 10 days ago, that showed 37 percent supporting the proposal. Experts said before the vote that they feared Swiss had pretended during the polling that they opposed the ban because they didn’t want to appear intolerant.

It’s not only in America apparently.

This vote in Switzerland, with the rise of Islamophobia in countries like France and the Netherlands throws at me the clue that fear is not only a motivator in American politics, but anywhere in the world. Fear politics won even in Switzerland.

It’s also doesn’t help that the largest partyin Switzerland, the People’s Party, have been pushing anti-immigrant fevor for years;

The People’s Party has campaigned mainly unsuccessfully in previous years against immigrants with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports.

Gee, that even makes the GOP look sane by comparison. Even Sarah Palin didn’t go so far.

In the meantime, with all it’s faults, I’m happy tonight to live in a country where a blatant infringement of freedom of relgion like this could never be instituted. If this isn’t unconstitutional in our country, then I’m not sure what the Constitution is even there for?

[UPDATE – Ed:]  The image above the fold and the complete image below are from a controversial poster produced by Switzerland’s majority party in support of the referendum.


  1. …that’s just weird.

    Far too often for my tastes Americans self-flagellate – and I don’t think I speak out of turn when I say that this is more common from the political left than right.  This is at the very least a good country by empirical standards and often it really is great.  If it is on average far from perfect then in most cases this reflects the nature of the universe and the species more than a truly unique failing.  

    Let us “never forget” that it was in Progressive Europe where we had our most recent bout of Massive Global Xenophobic Genocide (even Rwanada pales by comparison, which is saying something).  For all the good that could be said about the continent, Europe today harbors germinating seeds of racial violence that America would be hard pressed to compete with.

  2. we find this article from “The Brussels Journal: The Voice of Conservatism in Europe”.  Aside from the usual generic ranting about the “real goals” of the Eveel Left you find the thread of xenophobic justification showing it’s weft in blocks of text like this:

    The claimed affront comes wrapped in the allegation that it is essentially unkind to depict a group the way its most visible representatives make it appear to the public. It seems that any representation of such groups and their supposed goals must have their approval for the image conveyed regarding them. The restriction amounts to limiting critique to terms of which the criticized party approves. This implies that, while they may shoot with sharp ammunition, you are limited to firing back with paint balls.

    The most hopeful sign I see, however, is that both on the above blog and this very page the ad for “The International Muslim Matrimonial Site!” is on my screen… ;~)

  3. I’ve wanted to write about the rise of Islamophobia, especially among intellectual circles, in Europe (and the US) and I’m grateful for DTOzone for flagging this us. I intended to diary this too.

    A couple of points in the framing bother me though:

    1. Lucky you don’t live in Europe?

    Switzerland is very exceptional country, both in political background and geography. It’s not even part of the EU, so the generalisation you make is somewhat discombobulating for this Brit. How about I write a diary about drug wars in Mexico and title is “Thank God I don’t live in America”.

    Switzerland is only one of over 30 countries in Europe, with some tiny percentage of the European population – around 1  per cent

    2. California and Switzerland

    It’s a horrible referendum result, but let’s remember the Swiss are like the Californians – often having such votes which do not translate directly into legislation. This is unlikely to become Swiss Law, and if it should do so, rightly aggrieved believers in Islam would have a very good case to present at the European Court of Human rights. This measure would be in breach of religious freedom.

    And when making self congratulating comparisons between this measure and the US, perhaps one ought to remember proposition 8

    3. Islamophobia and Europe.

    Having said all that, there is a much more acute problem with European attitudes to Islam, but that can be explained by geography and demographics rather than latent or ingrained culturally racist attitudes. Arab and Muslim countries border most of the southern borders of the EU. Partially due to the wars in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq (as well as the Iranian revolution) Europe has absorbed millions of asylum seekers and refugees. Thanks to the economic disparities between the EU and its neighbours, there are also millions of economic migrants from Turkey and the Maghreb. Then there is the post colonial legacy – Pakistanis and Bangla Deshi’s having ‘right of abode’ in the UK, Moroccans in Netherlands, Algerians in France. The issue is much more complex than Islam v Europe, with each country having different problems according to the ethnic of national backgrounds of both the host nation and the recent migrants.

    There’s much to be written and discussed on this subject, but a sense of the complexities and nuances ought to be remembered. Because of the proximity of relatively poor and undeveloped Arab nations on Europe’s doorstep, it’s also the challenge of growing disparities between western nations and their neighbours.

    Unlike the US, there is no general antagonism towards hispanic or latino migrants in Europe. The reasons are obvious. I don’t think Americans are intrinsically better or worse people because they have parties and voters who would install repressive measures against illegal Mexican immigrants.

  4. sricki

    but while I do agree that this is troubling, I think your focus here is too narrow. It’s a disturbing vote and a worrisome measure, but it is certainly no worse than the types of discrimination we see in the US. Compare it with 8 — this ban (potential ban) would ban a symbol, and while I certainly do not approve, I am more distressed about displays of American bigotry like 8 and the results of other gay marriage votes in other states, which block an entire way of life to a group and which have concrete, measurable consequences in terms of things like health care.

    I also don’t think you can generalize Switzerland’s failings to the rest of Europe.

    What you can generalize, however, is the fact that bigotry and fear of the “other” seem to be innate aspects of the human condition. I would wager a guess that there isn’t any country anywhere which doesn’t display comparable forms of bigotry, and which hasn’t enacted or tried to enact “oppressive” measures against certain groups at some point in their history. Immigrants have always faced discrimination in this country — not just Hispanic or Asian immigrants, but Europeans as well: Italians, Irish, Slavic peoples, and the list goes on. As time passed and people in this country “got used” to such people, that anti-European sentiment largely passed. The same will eventually be true of Mexicans and other Hispanic peoples, though it may take longer due to this nation’s tendency to discriminate purely on the basis of skin color.

    I don’t know what the statistics for hate crimes against Muslims are in Switzerland or the rest of Europe — maybe Brit has a better idea and could offer some help here — but before we assume there is much of anything progressive about this country (or regressive about Switzerland), let’s look at our own problem with hate crime and religious and ethnic discrimination. And I think Chris alluded to the Holocaust? But does anyone think we’re immune to anti-Semitic sentiment? In 2006, in this country, 68% of hate crimes committed against religious groups were committed against Jews. Compare that with only approximately 11% against Muslims — and just think, that’s after 9/11. Does anyone think we’re immune to extraordinary human rights violations against people living in our own country? Look at the Japanese internment camps in the 1940s: over 100,000 innocent Japanese Americans chucked into camps by FDR, a Democratic president. Many of the victims of War Relocation Camps died from lack of access to medical care, suffered extreme psychological harm, and were subject to extensive property loss because of the restrictions on what could be brought into the camps. And who ultimately apologized for that hateful confinement? Ronald bleeding Reagan of all people.

    So yes, there is prejudice in Switzerland. Our country has different prejudices — we focus on Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, and gays, whereas Europe has a problem with anti-Muslim sentiment. But realistically, who wouldn’t want to live in Switzerland? I have always wanted to live there, actually — for most of my life, anyway. From health care to science to humanitarian efforts, they tend to be ahead of the curve. The Red Cross is based in Geneva. For seven years, Zurich had the highest quality of life in the world, and it is now ranked second only to Vienna. Geneva is also in the top five. The country hasn’t been at war in almost 200 years. They are a representative direct democracy. They have universal health care. CERN, the largest laboratory in the world, is located there and dedicated to the study of particle physics.

    I’m rambling now, but I guess what I’m saying is that you can’t take one example of discrimination and use it to condemn a country — that’s not a sufficient or fair measure.

    Oh. And I guess I’m also saying I really wanna live in Switzerland. Beautiful country, too. ; )

  5. dtox

    … but a constitutional amendment to ban an architectural feature sounds far too much like something straight out of Monty Python.

    I think they should have done away with laminate flooring instead.  

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