Thursday, December 03, 2009

Swiss Ban on Minarets: Belated Remarks

Swiss Minaret
Wangen bei Olten

According to the Times Online article by Charles Bremner, "Europe unites to deplore Swiss ban on minarets" (November 30, 2009), from which I borrowed the image above, this "minaret installed on the roof of a Turkish cultural centre . . . [is] one of four in Switzerland."

In fact, this is probably a mosque, as "Islam in Switzerland" makes clear:
Whereas twenty years ago there were only three mosques in Switzerland (two in Geneva and one in Zurich), there are now almost 90, generally referred to as "Islamic Cultural Centers", sometimes open for the five daily prayers, and certainly open for Friday prayer.
This source adds that there are between 200,000 and 250,000 Muslims living in Switzerland. If I recall, there are over one million Christian expats living and working in Saudi Arabia, so there should be at least eight bell towers and 360 churches. Let's check:
On March 22, 2008, BBC News reported that Archbishop Paul Mounged al-Hachem, a senior Middle East representative of the Pope, said the Vatican was holding talks with the Saudi government on the subject of building churches in the Kingdom. Al-Hachem said discussions began a few weeks earlier, but the outcome was unclear.
So far, there are no churches being built in Saudi Arabia, so I suppose that there are also no bell towers . . . unless some aspire toward heaven from atop 'Christian Cultural Centers'.

Al-Manar TV, in an article "Muslim, Christian Authorities Slam Swiss Referendum to Ban Minarets" (November 30, 2009), notes the condemnation by various Muslim spokesmen of the Swiss ban, including a couple of leaders in Pakistan:
Pakistani religious groups condemned the referendum calling it "extreme Islamophobia."

"This development reflects extreme Islamophobia among people in the West," said Khurshid Ahmad, vice president of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic political party that is represented in Pakistan's parliament.

"This also represents very serious discrimination against Muslims."

Ahmad described the Swiss decision as a serious violation of human rights and international law. "This is an effort to provoke Muslims and prompt a clash between Islam and the West."

Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for Islamic charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa said: "The West never takes respite in claiming to be champions of religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony, but this latest decision shows their bias against Muslims."
Given the statements of these two Muslim leaders in Pakistan, that country must be a beacon of religious freedom. But maybe not. Here's what a prominent Pakistani Christian says in his article for the Pakistan Christian Post, "Will Saudi Arabia allow construction of Cathedrals to challenge Swiss ban on minarets?" (November 30, 2009):
Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, President of Pakistan Christian Congress [(PCC),] . . . expressed surprise on statement of Pakistani representatives in UNHRC expressing concern on Swiss vote ban on construction of minarets on mosques and other Islamic institutions in Switzerland when construction of new Churches in Pakistan has to follow strict government guidelines which prohibit . . . [a church] one furlong from [an] existing mosque and [the] use of loudspeakers.

Nazir Bhatti said[,] "Christ The King processions and other open rituals have been banned in public places from decades but not any Muslim human right activists have raised voice against government actions to damage true spirit of religious freedom in Pakistan but their protests in name of human right against Swiss government vote to ban minarets is [an] index of substandard [human rights views]."

In a statement released by PCC Central office here today[, he] also urged Saudi Arabia to allow construction of Churches in kingdom to challenge Swiss ban on minarets.

"The Human Right activists around world shall [i.e., should?] raise voice to press upon Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries in Middle East to permit construction of Cathedrals and ensure religious freedom for Christian minorities[,]" added Nazir S Bhatti.
Good luck with that call for consistency in such Muslim countries. Finding examples of hypocrisy worldwide by Muslim spokesmen on this issue of 'human rights' would be far too easy. Even a five-year-old child could Google it, so there's little point in me wasting my time. Find me a five-year-old child to do it, or I might get grouchy marks for my resentment at the otiose task.

I suppose that I should add that I don't quite see the point of banning minarets. Restricting their height for architectural reasons is reasonable, as is banning their use for calls to prayer, which is unnecessary in a world of, for example, cellular phones. An outright ban, moreover, may in fact violate Swiss constitutional law on the freedom of religion. We shall soon see, for this ban will undoubtedly be challenged.

But perhaps the Swiss ban will meanwhile provoke some frank debate about double standards in the Muslim world.

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At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In a way, Muslims criticizing Switzerland for banning minarets are not hypocrites. Switzerland is a secular nation with a constitution that protects religious freedom. I believe that most Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan enshrine Islam as the favored if not official religion, following the tradition set by the founder. Religious freedom is a Western secular value. It is not a Muslim value.

At 8:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose that this gives such Muslims a legal argument, but little moral ground to stand on. The Swiss could well ask why a state that restricts religious freedom should protest if another state decides to restrict religious freedom.

But I'm curious to see where this controversy will lead, and I hope that Muslim spokespersons will be asked, repeatedly, about restriction on religious freedom in their own countries.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:37 AM, Blogger John B said...

If Saudi Arabia were making the criticisms, I would see the hypocrisy. But the protest is largely coming from the Swiss Muslim community, European Muslims, and in the case you discussed, Pakistani Muslims.

Discussing the opportunities for religious freedom in Pakistan would be constructive, but I don't see what Saudi Arabia has to do with it. There is a diversity of opinions and interpretations in the Muslim community.

At 4:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John, I guess that we differ on this point. I see widespread hypocrisy in Islam, which confers different 'rights' on people according to religion and gender. See today's post (December 4th, 2009) for more on my views.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:34 PM, Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

Will Saudi Arabia allow construction of Cathedrals to challenge Swiss ban on minarets?

Saudia's policy towards terrorism has long been to export it. If they allow the building of churches, they risk a wave of Wahhabist rage against the ruling claque.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Precisely, SI . . . though the Saudi elite are probably also devout Wahhabists.

Jeffery Hodges

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