Swiss minaret ban sign of worrying xenophobia

The Swiss Confederation by referendum has decided, with a 57.5% majority, to constitutionally ban the use of minarets in the country. 22 of the 26 cantons also voted in favor of the proposition, making it legal.(1) The use or definition of minarets is not specifically defined, making the application of the provision unclear, and moreover there are only 4 mosques with minarets in the country to begin with. It is therefore obvious that the minaret itself here functions not as an architectural eyesore, which indeed it need not be given the excellent traditions of Islamic religious architecture, but as a proxy for the presence of muslims in Switzerland. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the Minister of Justice of the Confederation, attempted to explain the result of the referendum as “not a vote against Islam, but a vote directed against fundamentalist utterances”.(2) The preposterousness of this claim is obvious, given that a minaret, although a vehicle of utterances, is not itself an utterance. Nor does it make much sense to call a tower a ‘fundament’, whether conceptually or from an engineer’s perspective.

The ludicrousness of the proposition aside, it is yet another step in a worrying pan-European trend to directly attack the muslim minorities in their respective countries. Communism does not have any love for religion, Islam least of all, and seeks no accomodation with it. Nonetheless, it also does not condone outbursts of xenophobia, pogrom attitudes and other accoutrements of fascism. Such phenomena are becoming ever more common as the indigenous, ‘white’ majorities in the continent are feeling more threatened due to worsening economic perspectives and the squeeze on the petty bourgeoisie through ultraliberalism and its subsequent crises. When there is no way out through the left, which is still licking its wounds from the mauling it received over the past decades, the fearful will attempt to force their way out on the right. The result is a revival of fascistic instincts. Indeed, it would have been one thing if this particular clause were aimed at all religions equally, and their open signs of status and power: although it would still mistake the symptom for the cause, one could at least see a justifiable anticlerical sentiment in it. But equally specific as nonsensical singling out of the building structures of one particular religion violates the principle of equality between religions, when supported or opposed, which is an important rule to liberals and socialists alike. To oppose religion and the oppressions it enables is to oppose, as Marx pointed out, the sources of those oppressions. As he put it so long ago:

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”

(3) Therefore, we must say yes to ripping the veil off Islam and its adherents as we do with all other religions, but we must say no to outright attacks on the outward phenomena of any specific religion as a vehicle for fascist sentiment.

1) “Swiss minaret ban may signal new right-wing surge”. Reuters (Nov. 30, 2009).
2) Rob Kievit, “Strong reactions to Swiss minaret ban”. Radio Netherlands Worldwide (Nov. 30, 2009).
3) Karl Marx, “Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, in: Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher [Paris 1844].

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