Switzerland, long known for its neutrality, its direct democracy, its defense of human rights and its key role in negotiating international conflicts, for being home to the Red Cross and the WHO and other United Nations agencies, for being a model multi-lingual country at peace, has just voted against religious freedom.
Though there are only four minarets in Switzerland, 57.5% of Swiss voters on Sunday agreed to a ban on the construction of minarets in their country. Voters ignored the pleas of major political parties and instead caved into the fear-mongering presented by a right-wing splinter group. The group plastered offensive posters throughout the country (except for in several cities that banned them, as in Basel) showing black minarets rising up out of the Swiss flag, looking like missiles. Nearby, stands a menacing-looking women in a black burka.
Der Spiegel predicts important international consequences for today's vote: Swiss banks and the Swiss economy are intimately tied up with the Arab world. Tourism could suffer, especially from rich Arab tourists. Likewise, the trust given to the Swiss in negotiating international conflicts could be damaged heavily. And, for course, what of the integration of the some 400,000 Muslims who live now in the country, most of whom are from hardly orthodox places such as Kosova, Bosnia, and Turkey?
And what is perhaps most disturbing about this vote is how it mirrors the propaganda going on in the US with Fox News and the extremist Republicans. According to Der Spiegel, much discussion in the media had little to do with minarets. Rather, the talk was about the coming of Sharia law, burkas--which are not a common sight in Switzerland--, and the supposed oppression of women in Muslim countries. Even a prominent Swiss feminist, Julia Onken, advocated voting for the ban.
In many ways, we here in the US seem better equipped in dealing with diversity, even though we've been seeing a rise anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment. Whatever the case, this vote should remind us just how important the fight for the freedom of religion and for the separation of church and state are in our country.