It was the first Sunday of Advent and a black day for everyone who cherishes the values of enlightenment. It was unexpected since everyone seemed to be against it: almost all political parties, the national churches, representatives of the economy and many other organizations.
But it happened still: The Swiss banned the construction of minarets in yesterday’s vote.
Reactions after the result were impressive. Within minutes I received text messages and Facebook group invitations from all sorts of people. One of the groups is “I am ashamed of the results of the Anti-Minaret initiative!.” When I wanted to invite more friends to join I realized that they were all already there – from the most conservative to the most liberal people I know.
Within a day tens of thousands of people had joined the group. Many immediately updated their Facebook status: “What a shock!” “This is it: I emigrate,” “Could we solve problems instead of fighting symbols please!” “Swiss Muslims live in a foreign country – but only since today,” “I am speechless,” “Switzerland what have you done???!!!!!!” etc.
Spontaneous demonstrations took place in Zurich and Bern and people even constructed little minarets and placed them on their balconies to show their disappointment with the outcome.
But the majority had spoken. Fifty-three percent of the population went to the ballot box. This is clearly above the average. Only the cantons of Vaud, Neuchâtel, Geneva and Basel City voted against the initiative. Zurich’s outcome was relatively tight. There was not only a clear divide between the French-speaking part of Switzerland that was mainly against the minaret ban and the rest of the country but also between urban and rural areas: While most big cities voted against the initiative, the countryside was clearly in favor of banning minarets. In other words: Where the least Muslims live the most they are feared.
Muslims proved to be the better democrats
The constitution of one of the world’s first liberal democracies will single out one specific religious community and prevent it from building their houses of worship the way they would like to. This is simply not worthy of a country that is proud of its heterogeneity, a country that hosts the Human Rights Council, chairs the Council of Europe and has a constitution whose preamble starts out so promisingly:
“The Swiss People […] resolved to renew their alliance so as to strengthen liberty, democracy, independence and peace in a spirit of solidarity and openness towards the world, determined to live together with mutual consideration and respect for their diversity […] and in the knowledge that only those who use their freedom remain free, and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members, adopt the following Constitution.”
Switzerland’s Muslim community, which has been living peacefully in this country for many decades, gave us a lesson in democracy. Provocations during the campaign only came from those who launched the federal popular initiative against minarets. The Muslims and their umbrella organizations not only reacted sober mindedly when Geneva’s mosque was damaged two weeks ago but also after the outcome of the vote was published.
Many Swiss are ashamed
This morning I wrote emails to my Muslim friends all over the world and apologized. Many haven’t answered yet and those who did made me feel even worse: “I really appreciate your feelings,” “Don’t worry – anyway, how is work?” “You live in a democratic country – that’s the way it is,” “Don’t worry, my dear. God bless you. ”
Different Muslim and secular groups are now considering taking the issue to the European Court of Human Rights in Strassbourg. Jurists say they have a good chance to win their case. Either way, I think our image as a credible defender of freedom, democracy and human rights is suffering.
A man was quoted in today’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung as saying: “I am 66 years old now and this is the first time I feel ashamed to be Swiss.”
He is not the only one.