N.B.: I feel compelled to clarify one thing…my implication here is not that the Swiss people, or the whole of Europe, is racist, rather, my criticism is focused on two things—the hypocrisy many Westerners express when discussing democracy (e.g., their reactions to Swiss democracy vs. Gazan democracy), as well as the sometimes failure of democracy itself to produce just and equal decisions (e.g., in this case, in the case of California’s Prop 8). I mean no harm to my Swiss friends and recognize that while 58% of voters made what I feel was a very poor choice, that vote does not represent the whole of the populace. It is also worth mentioning that Switzerland has a record of low voter turnout.
Many people are outraged at the Swiss people’s decision to ban minarets from their skylines, a decision made by referendum.
From the outset, let me say that I am wholly opposed to this decision, just as I am opposed to the burqa ban in France, Egypt’s ban on building churches, several Muslim countries’ bans on conversion, and Saudi Arabia’s banning of female hair. I fundamentally believe in the right of anyone to practice their religion, anywhere (though I certainly prefer they keep it to themselves). I should also say that two wrongs don’t make a right: I’ve heard plenty of statements along the lines of “good for the Swiss, they’re standing up to Islam” from people who, were the tables turned, would call inequality if a majority-Muslim nation does the same thing.
That said, much of the outrage today seems to be directed solely at the Swiss, with much emphasis on the fact that Switzerland is a democracy, and the referendum was voted on by the people. It would seem that Switzerland is being held to a higher standard than those Muslim countries with similar practices; Fair enough, you might say, those Muslim countries with similar laws are not democracies. What people seem to be forgetting is that democracy can have undesirable results: Hitler was approved by an 85% vote of the people, for example, and everyone’s favorite example—Hamas—was elected by popular vote almost four years ago.
So why do so many people hold Switzerland to a higher standard? Is the assumption that a country which gives the freedom of voting to its citizens a better country? Mind you, I’ve never actually been to Switzerland, but having lived nearly 25 years in the United States, I can say with absolute certainty that there have been a great number of poor democratic choices made by the people in my lifetime, and undoubtedly many more will follow. But here, when we complain, we are waved off with the statement, “But it is the will of the people.” And what if the people are just not right?
I find this incident particularly ironic: What a lot of Europeans and Americans seem not to realize is that, often, Muslims have left their own countries and emigrated to the so-called West in search of better opportunity, or more freedom. Bigoted types, when ranting about Muslims in Europe, often use the tired old claim that “they should go back where they came from.” What this totally ignores is that where they came from may have been somewhere where they lacked the freedom to practice Islam as much or as little as they wanted. Or more often, that “where they came from” is in fact where they are: Plenty of Swiss Muslims were born in Switzerland and know no other country as their home.
Nevertheless, it was not the Swiss Muslims who made the decision to ban minarets. It was 58% of the voters, a 58% vote from racists who think that somehow banning minarets will do something other than anger Muslims, driving them farther toward the fringe and for some, toward more extreme beliefs.
Democracy is only as righteous as its citizens. And if the citizens of a country are racist, democracy will reflect that.