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Tuesday, December 01, 2009 

Drop your bombs between the minarets...

Stopped clocks and all that, but I think Daniel Hannan very succinctly nailed the reasons why the Swiss vote on banning minarets was, as he put it, regrettable (ht Neil):

The decision by Swiss voters to outlaw the construction of minarets strikes me as regrettable on three grounds.

First, it is at odds with that other guiding Swiss principle, localism: issues of this kind ought surely to be settled town by town, or at least canton by canton, not by a national ban.

Second, it is disproportionate. There may be arguments against the erection of a particular minaret by a particular mosque – but to drag a constitutional amendment into the field of planning law is using a pneumatic drill to crack a nut.

Third, it suggests that Western democracies have a problem, not with jihadi fruitcakes, but with Muslims per se – which is, of course, precisely the argument of the jihadi fruitcakes.

Hannan could have even done without the first point entirely: he's quite right in his second that the construction of any conspicuously large structure, religious or otherwise, should be considered on a case by case basis. A blanket ban on minarets is egregiously illiberal, it goes without saying; it is, in this political era of "sending messages", the equivalent of telling Muslims not to get above themselves. This might be a free, democratic, multicultural country where freedom of worship is cherished, but don't go getting any ideas that your place of worship can have a fancy tower, that's beyond the pale.

The most troubling thing about the Swiss vote is that everyone imagined that something which was of a minority interest, Muslim-baiting, which despite the efforts of some has not yet become a spectator sport, would result in a minority turning out to support it. As it was, there wasn't an overwhelming majority in favour of the ban, with 57% on a 53% turnout supporting it, yet it was still a major surprise that it passed. Equally lacking was the intellectual case for the ban: the claim that the minaret has no scriptural basis, while accurate, is also irrelevant; there isn't, as far as I'm aware, any verses in New or Old Testament which advocate the construction of church spires, which could equally be construed as a architectural statement of religious power, but then not many of those are being built these days.

When you reduce the exact reasons for the vote down to their respective bare minimums, you're left with unpleasant choices to make about why it was passed: either that 57% aren't taken with large structures; they're openly xenophobic and are resistant to change of any sort; or they believe the scaremongering about Islamification and are worried about immigration. As it is, it's probably a bit of all three. Almost any planning applications in this country are routinely opposed by either nimbys or bananas (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), regardless of their merit; some of those who supported it will have been openly racist and worried sick of how we're all dhimmis; while likely the vast majority just aren't convinced about the merits of immigration and believed that minarets are, as was argued, the thin end of the wedge.

Unfortunately, this reflects badly on Europe as a whole: while we've enjoyed the benefits of immigration for decades, even while complaining about it, we seem to have decided that now the drawbridge must close. Watch any political debate programme and you'll only probably hear the Liberal Democrats make the case for immigration now; the other parties will of course laud immigration in the past, but conspicuously say that now we need caps. When we're afraid, out of fear of opprobrium, to support immigration both in the past and now, we hand the likes of BNP the entire floor with which to work. The same goes for defending Muslims from those who wish to portray them all as niqab wearing militants determined to establish hand-chopping emporiums on the high street: for too long we've been prepared to shout "racist!" without backing the argument up. Then again, we also aren't helped by Sayeedi Warsi when she does the equivalent of declaring some Muslims takfir for disagreeing with her (while they did the same with her). We need to reach out to everyone, regardless of views, entrenched or otherwise. The alternative is the superficial but significant statements of intent, which was just what the Swiss vote was.

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