Minarets of doom
What can you say about the Swiss decision to ban minarets — in their constitution, not the building code! — that hasn't already been said? I for one am kind of grateful for this decision, which simultaneously exposes the depth and the vacuity of anti-immigrant, and specifically anti-Muslim, rhetoric in Europe. It's long been obvious to anyone with a strange last name and more-tan-than-usual skin, but the Swiss have taken it to new levels. To cite a great line from the Hitcock film Notorious, which I watched recently at the top secret Arabist retreat at the edge of the desert, "we are protected by the enormity of their stupidity."
Of course one is tempted to concoct some scheme to respond. An Arabist nadwa last night included the following possibilities:
- Building mosques on their sides, so the minaret goes sideways rather than up in the air;
- Building minarets into the ground;
- Painting minarets onto the side of buildings;
- Finally taking Arab money out of Switzerland — perhaps in the process we'll see who has that money they're so good at being discreet about;
I'd welcome your thoughts. In the meantime here are a few tangentially minaret-related links:
"But why the minaret? I suspect that this is a very Christian response, not unlike the centuries old designation of Islam as Mohammedanism. Since Church steeples are so emblematic in Christianity, it must be assumed that the minaret holds a similar position for Muslims. There is nothing in the Quran or traditions that mandates a minaret; just as Jesus never told his followers to build steeples. A minaret is also a visible difference for a building that may look ‘Middle Eastern’ but otherwise would not stand out as much. So the vote does not really prevent Muslims from worship, but it does send a message. This message is an Islamophobic domino theory response, since the real issue is not about architecture (or any misguided birds who may occasionally fly into a minaret) but about assimilation. News reports indicate that the fears behind the vote (which was not exactly a landslide) are more about women in hijab, application of sharia law and, of course, fear of extremist terrorism. Ironically, most of the Muslims in Switzerland are from European contexts like the former Yugoslavia, not from areas where they are likely to be violent."
Excuse me? Daniel Varisco starts off well with a look at the Christian reasons for obsessions with minarets, but then veers off with the comment on Muslims from Yugoslavia. The breakup of that country was a violent process that lasted most of the 1990s, it's not like Yugoslavian Muslims have no experience of violence (and indeed there were jihadis there, even if the best-known ones were foreign). Secondly, what's the link between the provenance of Muslim immigrants and their likelihood of being violent? Are Arab Muslims the most violent because al-Qaeda is largely an Arab organization? That might be so if membership of al-Qaeda was statistically significant among Arabs, but it isn't. So really this is about the "noises and smells" and dress code (and skin color?) of non-European Muslims.
"The Times reports that there’s some evidence that more women were in favor of the ban than men, too. One can only suppose that, having waited until 1971 to give women the vote in Federal elections, and in some parts of the country until 1990 in Cantonal elections, the Swiss are now making up for lost time making good on their commitment to feminism."
✪ Speaking of which, here's a post on Islamic feminism [in French].
" Egypt's Mufti Ali Gomaa denounced a vote to ban new minarets in Switzerland on Sunday as an 'insult' to Muslims across the world, while calling on Muslims not to be provoked by the move."
But of course Gomaa has opened himself up to a counter-attack with Egypt's restrictions on church-building.
✪ Do It Yourself Minaret by a Swiss graphic artist:
Since this article is in French, I'll translate the gist of it: Swiss parties now considering further measures "against the rampant Islamization of Swiss society." These include a mix of good and bad things: fighting forced marriages, female genital mutilation (not that it's an Islamic practice anyway), a burka ban, and no dispensation from swimming classes for Muslim kids. Some want to take it further: no separate areas for Muslims in Swiss cemeteries, and a ban on Swiss Muslim from wearing a veil (any type) at the workplace. Note that they've thrown in decent ideas about protecting women's rights with all kinds of racist drivel, all in the name of "encouraging Muslims to integrate our societies." Obviously that will not work, because that is not their real intentions: they want to drive out Muslims from Switzerland, go back to some kind of purely Calvinist culture now that they don't need cheap labor anymore. They are racists, and next on their legislative agenda is a law that would enable them to deport any Muslim immigrant who breaks a Swiss law or defrauds state welfare.
You see, it starts with something silly and then loses all sense of proportions. In the process they will kill positive steps that can be taken towards integration.
✪ From Le Figaro, French right-wing politicians mull also banning minarets, but most don't care about the existing ones. It is giving a boost to wider right-wing calls against Muslim immigration, though.
✪ Saudi Aramco has an old article about minarets.
✪ Sharq al-Awsat has a round-up of reactions from prominent Islamic thinkers.
✪ In a rather timely fashion for all this, Laila Lalami's review of Christopher Caldwell's book on Europe and Islam. Unlike the many other reviews I've read it reveals some truly shocking passages (including one in which Caldwell equates European colonization and labor migration). Here, after talking about French racism, she traces the intellectual intellectual antecedents of European worry about the Mohammedan hordes:
So it would seem that the perfect Muslim immigrant in France is one who cleans the house, picks up the trash, attends to the infant or, increasingly, fixes the computer, heals the sick and runs the bank, and then disappears in a wisp of smoke, before his presence, his beliefs, his customs, his way of dress, his "noise and smell" offend the particular sensibilities of the general population. France is not alone in wishing that its Muslims were invisible. As anyone who has visited Western Europe in the past few years will tell you, the "Muslim question" is a matter of grave concern.
European Muslims have unintentionally revived a whole genre of nonfiction--the alarmist tract, billed as a "searing" yet "necessary" exposé on Europe's impending demise now that it has allowed so many millions of Muslims to settle on its shores. The titles are each more ominous than the last: The Rage and the Pride, by Oriana Fallaci (2002); Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, by Bat Ye'Or (2005); Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips (2006); Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's Too, by Claire Berlinski (2006); and While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within, by Bruce Bawer (2006). The authors rely mostly on tabloid or newspaper accounts; the arguments are simple, or, more accurately, simplistic, and the preferred method of inference is extrapolation.
The latest offering in this genre is Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West, by Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and a regular contributor to the Financial Times, The New York Times Magazine and many other publications. However, just as Chirac and Sarkozy prefer to say more carefully what Le Pen says bluntly, Caldwell articulates in polite and embellished language what Bawer and others have been saying aggressively for years: Europe is being overrun by Muslim immigrants; these immigrants show no sign of assimilating to European culture and social mores; and as a result, Europe is in danger of becoming an outpost of the Islamic empire.
Yet no one in the chattering classes seems to have noticed that the voices of European Muslims are seldom heard. This is a debate about them--not with them. And indeed Reflections on the Revolution in Europe has been reviewed in the American press mostly by people who are not European, much less Muslim. Not surprisingly, the argument that Muslims are collectively trying to "conquer" Europe "street by street" in order to turn it into an outpost of Islam has been taken at face value. But this argument is not serious criticism because it is not based on thorough empirical evidence; it is racism.
In other words, racism in Europe is raw and exposed -- what else can you say about the ridiculous ban of minarets -- but racism in America, which had a better history of integration of immigrants generally, remains cloaked in the anti-immigration rantings of mainstream personalities like Lou Dobbs and a view of the Muslim world defined by that deadly phrase, "why do they hate us?"