29 November 2009


Today, the Swiss voted in a national referendum to ban the construction of minarets in their country. They voted convincingly enough that this measure will be added to the Swiss constitution.

Now, I'm no friend of religion, and certainly no friend of one that in many of its manifestations would rather see me dead than alive, but I have to pose that question about subjecting a minority's rights to referendum. The whole idea of human rights protection — and these measures are generally enshrined in countries' constitutions — is to protect unpopular minorities (the popular ones not needing any help).

The ultimate hypocrisy, of course, is to be found in so-called laic societies defending themselves against the expression of a religion that might be newer to their territory while defining the symbols of the dominant religion as 'cultural' and therefore protected from the application of the same norms.

I'm sure that the church spires I have juxtaposed with minarets in the pictures above are seen as 'heritage buildings' or 'cultural symbols', but I really don't see the difference between them. I have read that the four existing minarets in Switzerland are not even used to issue the call to prayer. Can we say the same thing about the bells (or increasingly speakers) in all of those church bell towers?

This all reminds me of our vociferous debate in Québec about 'reasonable accommodation' of minorities, sparked by a similarly intolerant ban on burkas by a by-law of the town of Hérouxville. After a commission that heard testimony from many hundreds of groups and individuals called for the reinforcement of laicism in our society, the members of the National Assembly voted unanimously (unanimously!) to reaffirm the presence of the crucifix above the Speaker's chair as a 'cultural symbol'.

This pretty recognizable symbol of Christianity has not been there since the building was built. It was installed during the 'grand noirceur', the reign of conservative Catholic premier Maurice Duplessis.

I'd say if you are going to ban one, you must ban them all. Maybe we can start by removing their tax-exempt status and see who survives.

1 comment:

David McHep C said...

I'm with you. I have heard that Switzerland only has four mosque and true, they are not allowed to call to prayer. This is the country that remained neutral when the Nazis were about. Now they suddenly have to take a stand? It boggles my mind. How do you start ethnic cleansing?