European countries have been struggling to assimilate Muslim immigrants over the past decades. French and German states have discussed banning the burqa (full-body covering worn by Muslim women that is considered oppressive) and the hijab (head covering worn by Muslim women, popular especially among young adults) from the workplace or school environments in an effort to minimize any political influence by these individuals. A similar sentiment was expressed by Swiss supporters of the decision to ban minaret construction. According to followers of the SVP, minarets are political symbols that indicate observance of the sharia, a Qur’an-based legal system. In actuality, they are meant to identify places of worship and serve as a daily call to prayer for Muslims, a practice that has not been instigated at any of the four minarets in Switzerland for fear of retribution.
This is not the Swiss People’s Party’s first expression of a racially-laden political agenda. Posters made by the SVP in the past have also expressed fear and hatred of an “encroaching” Muslim population. White supremacy can be clearly read from the graphic symbolism (one anti-immigration poster showed a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the country). Their claims that minarets are symbols of a race or religion of people refusing to fully assimilate into the dominant culture may be correct – but the SVP’s assertion that this expression of identity harbingers terrorist attacks or imposing, extremist political views is absurd. What I find much more concerning are the unsettling similarities between the Swiss’ banning of mosque minarets and the German Nazis’ destruction of Jewish synagogues and temples. Fear in uncertain economic and political times is expected and understandable; however, it must not be allowed to escalate to discriminatory governmental acts.
I’d like to end with a quote from the LA Times blog in which the author disputes the claim that minarets are symbolic of a minority unwilling to participate in traditional Swiss culture.
…building a minaret in a European city is arguably the opposite of a secessionist or defiant act. When it rises among steeples and chalets in a Swiss alpine village, of course, a minaret is an expression of separation from, and maybe defensiveness against, the dominant culture. But it also signals an interest in joining the mixture of building types that make up any cityscape – in lining up in public view. If a veil steps back and is silent, a minaret steps forward and has something to say.