By a roughly three-to-two margin, the Swiss have decided to prevent the erection of any more minarets in their traditionally Christian country. A minaret is not a mosque, which is an enclosed place of worship, but rather is a tall, thin tower from which Muslims are summoned in Arabic to prayer. They don’t look a lot like chalets.
A European country with a unique culture and thousand-year old architectural tradition, the Swiss are not anti-Muslim bigots: Over the past two decades, the number of mosques in Switzerland has risen from three to roughly 90. And the proponents of banning minarets made clear they are not interested in stopping the construction of mosques — just Middle Eastern-style towers about as at-home in Switzerland as arugula in Texas.
Many Christian and Jewish groups in Switzerland itself opposed the ban on minaret construction. They worry, rightfully, about the institution of religious prejudice and dangerous fear-mongering by groups that link terrorism not with terrorists but with Islam itself. For example, a notorious poster displayed during the recent election shows minarets in the shape of missiles: Hardly the kind of calm and respectful political engagement for which one would hope.
Yet Swiss fears about minarets symptomize a much more profound fear and growing reality: The Islamization of Europe.
In Britain alone, one recent study indicates that there are 85 Sharia courts. According to the respected British think-tank Civitas, “The fact that so many Sharia rulings in Britain relate to cases concerning divorce and custody of children is of particular concern, as women are not equal in Sharia law, and Sharia contains no specific commitment to the best interests of the child that is fundamental to family law in the UK. Under Sharia, a male child belongs to the father after the age of seven, regardless of circumstances.”
In Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, the UK and elsewhere, there are radical imams who advocate a holy war against the governments and citizens of the nations where they live.
It is noteworthy that many non-devout Muslims in Switzerland (the great majority of the approximately 400,000 who live there) are disturbed by the radicalization of the Islamic clergy in their adopted country as many non-Muslim Swiss. They have publicly condemned calls to terrorism in the name of Muhammad, abide by Swiss law and are model citizens.
But it is indisputable that violence and devoutly-practiced Islam are as part-and-parcel as chocolate is to Hershey. As noted by journalist Blake Hall last month in Forbes,
In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI delivered a speech where he referred to some of the teachings of Islam as "evil and inhuman." In response, seven churches in Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza were attacked and a nun was shot in Somalia. Anjem Choudary, a lawyer in London, told an assembly that those who insulted Islam would be "subject to capital punishment." Protesters carrying signs that read "Behead those who insult Islam" listened to him as he explained, "The Muslims take their religion very seriously and non-Muslims must appreciate that and … also understand that there may be serious consequences if you insult Islam and the Prophet."
In Europe, Quran-sanctioned activism against Muslim non-believers is undeniably real. In a 2005 article in Foreign Affairs, the respected national security analyst Robert S. Leiken wrote of the threat of “Europe’s Angry Muslims:”
Jihadist networks span Europe from Poland to Portugal, thanks to the spread of radical Islam among the descendants of guest workers once recruited to shore up Europe’s postwar economic miracle. (Across Europe) … immigrants or their descendants are volunteering for jihad against the West.
Despite the chilling reality of the threats, it is also important no one in Europe or America allow his thinking or conduct to devolve into ugly bias. All Americans should sustain our historic conviction that any true religious or ethnic bigotry is morally wrong. All persons are made in the image and likeness of God and should be free to worship as they wish.
In a letter to a Quaker group written during the first year of his presidency (1789), George Washington captured this well: “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights.”
But freedom of religion implies responsible conduct and respect for the rights of others, principles that are lost when some of a religion’s leaders — in this case, radical imams — preach hatred.
Most Europeans honor the right of Muslims to practice their faith in a quiet, respectful, non-aggressive manner. Muslims are now in Europe in significant numbers, but incidents of violence against them are, thankfully, quite rare.
The same cannot be said of non-Western Christians in Islamic countries who often are beaten, discriminated against (Christians and Jews are often paid only half of their Muslim counterparts, per the command of the Quran) and prevented from free and open worship. Sometimes, they are mutilated or killed. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (www.uscirf.gov) and groups like the International Justice Mission (www.ijm.org), Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (www.cswusa.org) quantify this upsetting pattern of violence regularly.
The debate about minarets in Switzerland is, at one level, about architecture. But go beneath that level slightly and you will find a nation fearful of the extreme Muslims in its midst — a minority of those present, most certainly, but a growing danger, nonetheless.
This fear cannot be dismissed as irrational, bigoted or xenophobic. Unless productive, non-discriminatory but firm steps are taken by the Swiss and all European nations where the threat of Islamic radicalism is genuine, this fear will grow, leading to outbursts of the very kind of racial and religious bigotry of which opponents of the minaret ban rightly warn.