In a national initiative that was voted on last Sunday, Swiss voting citizens banned any new minarets from being built in Switzerland. The international media´s outcry has been prompt and loud. And, a lot of Muslims in Switzerland and abroad are upset. They are all quick to brand the acceptance of this initiative as rascist, discriminatory and, above all, against human rights. They don´t care that this decision is based on the Swiss constitutional rights and on a time-tested system of direct democracy.
Now, clearly, a few minarets here and there are, per se, nothing worth mentioning, or even banning. That is not the concern expressed in last Sunday´s vote. So far, in Switzerland, there are only 4 minarets. So, it´s not like Swizerland´s horizon is plastered with these tall, slender towers of Islam, nor is there a plague of muezzins waking up the Swiss when announcing the hour of daily prayers.
Switzerland, today, does not have a problem with Muslims; some 300,000 Muslims live in Switzerland. Most of them are peaceful and law-abiding – in other words, most of them respect OUR Swiss constitution and laws. There is, however, a minority of Muslims in Switzerland, as in other parts of Europe and the world, that adhere and feel obliged only to one law, that of Sharia. This minority amongst Muslims represents a problem, and not just in Switzerland.
Certain Sharia laws are regarded as divinely ordained, concrete, and timeless for all relevant situations. A common definition of Sharia is as follows: "Muslim or Islamic law, both civil and criminal justice as well as regulating individual conduct both personal and moral. The custom-based body of law based on the Koran and the religion of Islam. Because, by definition, Muslim states are theocracies, religious texts are law, the latter distinguished by Islam and Muslims in their application, as Sharia or Sharia law."
Sharia law, in some areas – for example women´s rights – is NOT compatible with the legal system of Switzerland, or with the laws and values of most non-Muslim secular states today. Fundamentalist Muslims do not accept Western rule of law.
In the interest of long-term peace and order, it is critical that these incompatibilities are discussed openly. Tolerance can never be a one-way street, as it takes two for tolerance to be viable and meaningful. It is never an end in and of itself. You can not afford tolerance to someone or something that itself has no tolerance for you and might be antagonistic. You can only be tolerant with someone or something that returns that tolerance somewhat equally. Fundamentalist Islam is not tolerant.
Speaking about this problem openly in public, at least in our view, represents the pinnacle of true democracy and freedom. Furthermore, it allows for the possibility of continuing a peaceful and constructive existence, side by side, in sync with the tradition of diversity that has been one of Switzerland´s unique strengths.
The Swiss voters are aware of Muslim demographic and social developments around them in the rest of Europe. And, they are concerned that if Muslims get their mosques, minarets and their burkas in school, it will follow on that they will want more, perhaps separate schooling or, why not even introduce a parallel system of Sharia law.
The rest of Europe has gone far on their path of ‘tolerance´ and they are paying dearly for it. England is currently battling harsh demands for Sharia law. Holland, another highly ‘tolerant´ nation, is far down the road of accepting and accommodating Muslim demands. They are now finding it difficult to turn the wheel back.
In some parts of Amsterdam, where minarets were built and Muslim muezzins started calling loudly for prayer, generally via remote loudspeakers, neighbors of other religious backgrounds started moving out, disturbed by the noise. The real estate prices in those neighborhoods fell. Muslims moved in. And, the neighborhoods which were once mixed and ‘tolerant´ have now become much less tolerant and purely Muslim ‘enclaves´. Not a recipe for peace and integration!
In Germany and France, as demographic trends start becoming very visible in daily life, the tensions between Muslims and Christians are growing rapidly. Regularly, one hears news of Sharia ‘incidents´, such as forced marriages, female circumcision, and violent punishments for adultery, even stoning. These incidents foster fear and tension. They are NOT ACCEPTABLE HERE.
Tolerance in the aforementioned countries has not stopped these practices effectively. And, in fact, it has avoided true integration of Muslims.
Contrary to the rest of Europe, where the majority of the people would love to, but CANNOT, openly discuss and stop the increasing and incompatible demands of Islam, the discussion has been initiated openly in Switzerland.
It is the democratic practice in Switzerland that, via initiatives and referendums, the people can launch, approve or disapprove legislation by direct voting. Every 3 months or so, we have the right as Swiss citizens to place our vote and influence the policies and history of our country. This is what you call a true and direct democracy.
The issues that exist with Islam in Europe and Switzerland are real. They are spreading and need to be addressed NOW. The Swiss people have spoken and have said ‘enough is enough´. The ban of minarets is merely a sign. It has launched a very active and emotional discussion on Islam in Switzerland, and hopefully in Europe in general. Democracy in Switzerland works. It has now become the catalyst for a discourse long overdue. That´s good for everyone, for Muslims in Switzerland too.
Muslims can continue to practice their religion in peace as long as their practices are compatible with our Swiss fundamental rights, our laws and, most of all, our constitution. Those Muslims who cannot accept that and who want to live in accordance with Sharia, a position we can fully respect and honor, should simply go and live elsewhere.
Most Muslims in Switzerland have not been discriminated. Fundamental Muslims have been. They don´t belong here. All Muslims continue to enjoy the full rights afforded to any resident of Switzerland, including the right to leave.