December 4, 2009
Much consternation has been expressed recently about the response of the majority of Swiss people to the building of minarets in their country. One of the most severe critiques came from Doug Saunders, a columnist for The Globe and Mail (“Swiss minaret ban emboldens Europe’s extremists”, December 1, 2009, p. A19). Saunders compares the banning of minarets with the “[Nazi German] rampage against synogogues” in 1939 and he refers to an anti-minaret advertising “campaign of caricature and grotesque rhetoric aimed at the target population, including images of sacrificed animals, black-hooded women and armed terrorists”. Secularly-minded Swiss are portrayed as “insecure” for their response, while Muslims demanding public acceptance of strident religious architecture are designated as “moderate” (the Balkan origins of most Swiss Muslims are perceived as meaning that “they are as culturally and historically European as any Christian Swiss citizen”). It is even argued that “the politics of Swiss Muslims are notably liberal and democratic, more so in many respects than in the rest of the Swiss population” (an assertion supported only by the “evidence” that few Muslims wear headscarves or advocate for Sharia law).
Although most commentators would not go as far as Saunders, many have seen the Swiss response as a double standard (Saunders also notes that Switzerland has a “steeple-pocked landscape”). But this argument fails to recognize that Christian churches in Switzerland are a product of European history, and therefore their existence is a fact of Swiss life. Also, increasing rationality in Europe is resulting in an emptying out of the churches, and their subsequent conversion into socially positive spaces such as concert halls and theatres. Muslim immigrants, on the other hand, are demanding that highly visible religiously inspired towers be introduced into Switzerland. Furthermore, it is likely that these minarets will create a new cultural dynamic in the country since their purpose is to enable a call to prayer to be issued to the Muslim community five times a day.
The fact that Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day is an indication of the intrusiveness of the Islamic religion, and the threat that it poses to cultures that embrace the principles of the enlightenment. This is a problem that is currently facing Europe, as well as Canada and the United States. Consider the following occurrences:
– In Canada, the government of the day contemplated preventing the distribution of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses on the grounds that it might be perceived as “blasphemous” and therefore be a form of “hate literature”;
– The cartoons depicting Mohammad were censored almost everywhere because of fears about Islamic retribution; the response of “moderate” Muslims was that while violence against those publishing the cartoons was wrong, so too was the caricaturing of the person regarded as their prophet;
– Some public pools in Canada have instituted times for female only swimming because Muslim groups do not want Islamic women in bathing suits to be seen by men;
– Islamic groups on campuses inform non-Islamic men about proper “etiquette”. This concerns not shaking hands with Islamic women out of “respect” for them.
– There are attempts in France to prohibit a national dish (pork soup) from being served by charities, since this is perceived as being “spiritually unclean” by Muslim believers.
One only has to visit the outskirts of Paris, which are now dominated by Islamic cultures, to observe the oppressive atmosphere that such restrictions have caused (unlike the ethusiastic sociability, especially between the sexes, that one sees in the rest of the city).
Europe has gone through hundreds of years of struggle to free itself from religious imposition, and these advances are now threatened by the cultural imperialism of Islamic groups. This concern was recently expressed by Martin Amis, in an interview with The Globe and Mail (Margaret Wente, “Feminism’s unlikely ally – and radical Islam’s foe”, November 14, 2009, p. F5). As Amis points out, “there is such a thing as universal values”, and these values are embodied in British law. Amis goes on to stress that he is a supporter of immigration and thinks that racial diversity is beneficial for society; it is the unconditional support of anything “multicultural” that disturbs him, since such arguments are preventing universal values from being embraced and entrenched in law.
One of the most interesting observations of Amis is that feminists today tend to support the demands of Islamic groups, even when they conflict with the principle of sexual equality. He notes that feminist ideals are now seen as secondary to minority cultural preservation, because we have “the terror-stricken anxiety of seeming racist or anti-multicultural”. This is a more general tendency for people who perceive themselves to be on the left. Reactionary practices such as hajib-wearing in schools and Sharia law are seen as “progressive” because Islam is perceived as being oppositional to western economic imperialism. It is not understood that Islam is not opposed to the economic oppression brought by imperialism, only its assault on patriarchal religious values.
Demands for “tolerance” of oppressive cultural practices is completely contrary to left-wing ideas – a circumstance that is leading to the increasing popularity of right-wing parties in Europe (because pseudoleftist parties refuse to oppose Islamic imperialism). There needs to be an understanding that opposition to beliefs and practices cannot, in itself, be racist since these are learned behaviour, not genetic characteristics. Being Islamic is a belief system, and people can reject the idea that God spoke to Mohammad in the desert if they choose to do so (although this is difficult since apostasy is often violently opposed by Muslims). Once culture and race are delinked, the possibilities for actual progressive politics will dramatically increase.