Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

The Swiss Say No to Minarets

 January, 2010

Either Islam will be Europeanized, or Europe will be Islamized.
(Bernard Lewis)

Unless the Christians wake up, life may be Islamized and Christianity will not have the strength to imprint its character on the life of people, not to say society….Europe has denied its Christian roots from which it has risen and which could give it the strength to fend off the danger that it will be conquered by Muslims, which is actually happening gradually. (Czech Archbishop Miloslav VIk) 

The shot recently fired by little Switzerland across the bow of the massive Islamic ship has created a storm of controversy. 

In late November, 57.5 per cent of Swiss voters called for a ban on building any additional minarets – which are tower-like structures from which the Muslim faithful are called to their five daily prayers.    

Even in Switzerland itself, many warned that this ban will antagonize Muslims and become an obstacle to their integration.  Opponents lit candles in front of the parliament buildings in Bern with banners saying: “This is not my Switzerland.” 

Critics Galore

And so it went. The headline in Timesonline says it all: “Europe Unites to Deplore Swiss Ban on Minarets.” Even Church leaders joined the chorus of condemnation. The head of the Vatican Council on Migration said that the Swiss ban is “a hard blow against freedom of religion and integration.”  The Conference of Swiss Bishops condemned the ban because “it heightens the problem of cohabitation between religion and culture.” 

 Le Temps, Geneva’s establishment newspaper predicted that it will spectacularly damage Switzerland’s international standing. It charged that the vote was inspired by “fear, fantasies and ignorance…. Vengeance, boycotts, retaliation… this clash with Islam could cost dearly.” 

The French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “scandalized” by the ban, which he perceives to be a form of oppression. Ironically, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy defended the Swiss. Writing in Le Monde he said that they acted out of fear about a loss of identity. Instead of condemning the Swiss, he wrote that we should “try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France.” 

The Muslim press was united in its condemnation of the Swiss.  The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said that the ban is an “example of growing anti-Islamic incitement in Europe by the extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist …politicians….” 

Abdul Rahman Shaheen, of gulfnews.com, reported that several Saudi Islamic scholars interpret the Swiss action as more proof of Western antagonism towards Islam and a sign of a new hostile campaign against that religion.  Shaikh Murshid Al Motairi, a noted Saudi preacher, advocated the launching of “a massive campaign to withdraw investments of Muslim countries from Swiss banks and halt going to Switzerland for holiday making.”  Naif Al Otaibi, an imam in Riyadh, called for a boycott of Swiss products and financial services. (The volume of Arab investments in Swiss banks is reported to be more than $400 billion.) 

The critics of the Swiss move against minarets argue that it is a violation of the Muslims’ freedom of religion, and that minarets are harmless expressions of the Islamic faith. In any case, there is a strong likelihood that the minaret restriction will be appealed and overturned by the Swiss Courts.  The Swiss Minister of Justice suggested that possibility.  The Swiss Green Party is considering to lodge a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights. 

 A Statement of Supremacy

It must be remembered that this ban does not affect the Swiss Muslims’ freedom to live their faith. Existing mosques in Switzerland with minarets will not be affected.  What is especially galling is the hypocrisy of vocal Muslim leaders who in their own countries forbid the free expression of religion other than Islam. No churches are allowed in strict sharia-ruled countries.  Even to own a Bible is a crime, and leaving Islam carries the death sentence in a number of Muslim countries.  

Yet these very same imams who issue fatwas against the infidels dare to lecture the Swiss about their alleged intolerance. Many mosque goers, even in the West, are taught to despise all non-Muslims. That’s how even in Canada and the U.S. young men decide to become terrorists, and fathers are led to kill their own daughters.  Switzerland is now in the unenviable position that its ban on minarets may well make it a target of Islamist terrorists.  (See Ross Douthat, NYT, Dec.7, 2009). 

The fact is that minarets serve as symbols of Islamic supremacy.  Here is a seminal statement made in 1998 by the current Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan:  “The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army.” 

Barbara Kay got to the heart of the issue when she wrote in a posting on the Website of the National Post: 

You will not find church steeples in Muslim countries.  No other religious symbol would ever be allowed to challenge the dominance of Islam. Minarets in Western countries are meant as a statement of cultural challenge: They say in their own tangible and unavoidable way, " Islam is the religion you must literally look up to." The Swiss were right to nip this thorny flower in the bud.                                                                    


Note the Context

What is the real significance of the Swiss vote on minarets?  Is it a thoughtless reaction of the great unwashed against the ruling elite – as the latter would like us to believe?  Or is it a legitimate statement of profound concern about the spread of an aggressive Islam that has no respect for the traditions of the host countries? Is it no more than an expression of Islamophobia?  

In a recent discussion about this topic, someone told me: “I am not sure that putting a stop to the building of minarets is worthy of the name spiritual battle against Islam. That seems so artificial and does not address the real issues.  It’s more of an insult policy.”  

I think he has a point, but only up to a point.  Like everything having to do with Islam, the context of this issue is of vital importance.  Let me reiterate and expand on three components of this context alluded to above. 

One. The significance of symbolism.

The western elite, so quick to condemn the Swiss ban, has no idea of the powerful influence of symbolism in Islam. Westerners have little respect for history and symbolism – the two are closely intertwined. They are now-oriented. Not so, the Muslims who pay a great deal of attention to the symbolic meaning of the highlights of their 1400-year history. This is why Osama bin Laden’s fatwas against the West are laced with references to 15th century Spain (Andalusia) and to the Crusades nearly a millennium ago. The faithful Muslims revere many heroes of the past, which is why the Shiites annually commemorate the assassination in 680 A.D. of ibn Ali Hussain, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.  The admirers of the bomber on Northwest flight 253 on Christmas day will not miss the symbolic significance of that day. 

Two. Many mosques are incubators of radicalism.

Prime Minister Erdogan statement quoted above suggests that the mosque, its size, location and structure is padded with symbolic meaning.  His use of the words “barracks,” “helmets,” “swords,” and “army” hint at an aggressive, even military purpose. They are apt terms because mosques often play a central role in promoting a violent version of Islam. How many stories have we not heard about young Muslims who were inspired by radical Muslim preachers and mentors to join the jihadists?  In Canada, this story has been well told by Stewart Bell. He characterizes Canada’s method of fighting terrorism as an attempt to smother it with kindness. But he writes this is “wrong, dead wrong.” 

The mosques provide a religious cover that makes the authorities reluctant to ferret out those Muslim individuals and organizations bent on advancing the cause of radical Islam so that the rule of Allah becomes supreme.  This is happening in every Western country with a sizeable Muslim community. It is even occurring in the U.S., the country at the frontlines of the war against radical Islam. (See P.David Gaubatz and Paul Sperry, Muslim Mafia). The same thing is going on in England, well documented in Melanie Phillips’ Londonistan.   

These books tell the story of infiltration by Muslims in many key areas of society, cunningly enabled by such organizations as the Council on American-Islamic Relations - which has a branch in Canada The mainstream establishment, including the media, turns a blind eye and refuses to face the truth. That refusal lies behind the Fort Hood slaughter, and even the terrible events of 9/11, as confirmed in the 567-page Report of the 9/11 Commission. This blindness also leads to the desperate attempts of the authorities, including the U.S. President, to act as if these and other similar killings, including “honour” killings, have nothing to do with the religion of the perpetrators. 

Three.The matter of reciprocity.

To be sure, most Muslims are not terrorists. Some have been outspoken in their rejection of jihad, and many appreciate the full freedom of religion they enjoy in the West. These Muslims should be prepared to speak out publicly against radicalism. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to use their ties to their countries of origin to demand equal freedom for the now often persecuted Christians and other non-Muslims. From our side, it would make sense for Christians, Protestants and Roman Catholics, to formulate a manifesto in defence of the freedom of religion for all.  Western governments should become more insistent in demanding from the Islamic countries that they accord the same kind of freedom to Christians and other non-Muslims as those enjoyed by all Muslims in the West. The West has a number of tools available to accomplish that, but seems to lack the will.                                                                                                                                                         



No Other Options

 Now back to the Swiss ban on the building of minarets. Could it be that its supporters had an intuitive sense of what has escaped the sophisticated? Did they grasp what Archbishop Miloslav VIK meant by the words quoted at the top of this article? What could they do? Not much. But they saw one possibility, which is unique to the Swiss democratic form of government - and they used it. Their move, now widely condemned and caricatured, was a whimper not a bang - and may well be undone. 

What has it accomplished? Looked at in isolation, not much. But considered in the context of the observation by Bernard Lewis and the Archbishop VIk, it assumes a world of meaning. For it is a reminder that Europe, actually the entire free West, faces a choice of momentous consequence – especially for our children. It has the choice to remember its spiritual roots, and to act on that with determination. Or to acquiesce in the gradual surrender to the world-embracing ambition of a super confident Islam.  

In mulling this over, we do well to remember this advice from the atheist German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas: 

Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.  Everything else is postmodern chatter. 

Something to ponder.

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