POSTED ON DECEMBER 30, 2009:
Religious liberties sound quite limited in "free" nations
Anticlimactic. Minarets are symbols to Muslims of God calling his creation to remember Him. To deny them their religious symbol is an act that is not only anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic, it is anti-Western values and anti-freedom
It saddens me greatly to see a free nation take a step away from the free marketplace of ideas and move closer, ever so slightly perhaps, to fascism, xenophobia and the tyranny of the majority. Sadly, Switzerland has just taken such a step by banning their citizens from building minarets, the towers often seen on Muslim houses of worship. In a nationwide referendum, 57.5 percent voted to restrict the rights of a minority representing only 6 percent of Switzerland's 7.5 million people. The official law of the land in Switzerland now prohibits a singled out group of Swiss citizens from building a symbol of their faith anywhere in the country.
This is unacceptable in a "free" society. The issue voted on by the Swiss people in the referendum was not whether a Muslim's call to prayer could be broadcast over a loud speaker from these towers, or whether such practice should be legally acceptable or at what volume. The ban imposed by this referendum is on the construction of the structures themselves.
The word Minaret comes from the Arabic word meaning "lighthouse." Minarets are symbols to Muslims of God calling his creation to remember Him. To deny them their religious symbol is an act that is not only anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic, it is anti-Western values and anti-freedom. Supporting this ban or failing to vocally criticize it is also, in my opinion, un-American.
To me, this ban is reminiscent of the government of England preventing Calvinist pilgrims from worshiping as they saw fit because it didn't mesh with the doctrines and authority claimed by the Church of England. Those pilgrims made an exodus to Holland, and ultimately to the Americas to find the freedom of worship they sought. Once they arrived, though, they quickly began denying people the right to dissent from their own doctrines. This seems to be the way of mankind. Our collective memory sometime seems very short indeed.
This ban on Minarets is also reminiscent of startling events in more recent history. At the risk of being accused of using exaggerations and hyperbole, I must say that this Minaret ban has elicited from me mental imagery from the German tragedy, which historians refer to as Krystallnacht, or the Crystal night. For many Americans my age, and perhaps too many Swiss youth, Krystallnacht may seem like something best described by historians because it lies in the foggy past and on the pages of some history book barely glanced at long ago in school. To the dwindling number of people who are old enough to remember Krystallnacht, some of whom still have a number on their arm that was forcibly tattooed there, the images remembered of the Crystal night are as vivid today as the images witnessed when it occurred on Nov. 9 and 10 of 1938.
It was the culmination of years of letting racist attitudes abide, and an almost imperceptible searching for someone, or some class of people to blame for the woes and hardships born by society. Countless shops that were owned, suspected of being owned or of catering to Jews were attacked, looted, and destroyed that night. The next day, glass from the storefront windows lay strewn about the streets in the morning sun, shimmering like millions of tiny crystals.
It may seem like something of a giant leap to go from discussing the banning of a religious symbol to discussing Krystallnacht. After all, it is indeed a different thing to outlaw someone's right to free speech and religious expression than it is to force them to wear a symbol of their faith on their clothing to identify them as "different" or somehow suspect, like the Jews in Germany had to do with the Star of David. It is a very different thing. Or is it?
If banning religious expression is compared to assaulting businesses and people, then admittedly there is a difference; but however different, they are still steps taken down the same road. Although the mile markers may be separated by a great distance, they lie on the same path, one that if followed to its end has the potential to take the whole of mankind to somewhere quite dark and terrible. Some say mankind is better than that now, with all the things we've learned from history now securely tucked under our belt. Others, including some with numbers still tattooed on their arms, tend to be more wary.
Some may say that this is a simple overreaction by the Swiss people to fears of Muslim extremism. Some will say that this is an isolated event and will eventually fade away and correct itself. I certainly hope so. But there are, even now, moves being made in Italy to institute a similar ban. Modern Jews are not taking this lightly. Jewish groups, including The Conference of European Rabbis, are standing firmly and vocally with Swiss Muslims to oppose this miscarriage of freedom.
I hope those who say that this is no cause for alarm are right. I hope the same about those who believe that a loud, clear and immediate response by the rest of the free world to this assault on liberty is unnecessary. Some will say that this ban on a religious symbol is nothing compared to the unjustifiably cruel acts of violence committed by some radical Islamist extremists, and therefore this Swiss referendum is inconsequential. I hope it is inconsequential indeed, because otherwise, it would seem that the undercurrents of intolerance and stifled free speech have once again begun to erode the sacred shores of freedom in Europe.
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