Dec 052009
Authors: Josh Phillips

Over the Thanksgiving break, voters in Switzerland made a decision to ban the building of minarets, which are towers near Islamic mosques that are typically used to call Muslims to prayer by Koranic chants. The referendum has been deemed “shocking” and “resentful of Muslim immigrants” by several news agencies, but perhaps they aren’t probing deeply enough into the issue.

Switzerland has long been heralded as a nation of tolerance, but Sunday’s vote revealed that 57.5 percent of voters were willing to risk the nation’s reputation in order to preserve traditional Christian ways over sharia law.

Those who voted in favor of the referendum said they are not looking to prevent Muslims from practicing their religion but are instead attempting to slow the growing political impact of the Muslim minority. The minarets, they say, are power symbols of Sharia law that are out of place in Switzerland, where quiet church steeples abound.

Despite the intentions, many in Switzerland have stated that the referendum will make positive relations between Christians and Muslims much more difficult to maintain.

This isn’t the first episode of Muslim backlash in Western Europe. In Marseille, France, natives are uneasy about the plans to erect a mosque on a promontory in a similar fashion as the Notre Dame de la Garde. Some are calling it a declaration of non-assimilation from Muslim immigrants, while others are supporting its representation of a cosmopolitan city.

The project has brought mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin under fire, as opposition claims he violated separation of church and state by granting building permits. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has launched a “national identity debate,” calling for French people to reflect on what it means to be French.

What can America take from these new developments in Western Europe?

At the moment, we are attempting to usher in an era of tolerance and diversity, but is Switzerland’s situation a subtle reminder that we may be giving up too much for tolerance’s sake? Is France’s response a reminder that we must maintain an independent national identity, free from outside influence?

Or should we take the easy route and label Switzerland and France intolerant, despite their openness to foreign cultures in the past?

Omar Al-Rawi, the integration representative of the Islamic Denomination in Austria, said, “The Swiss have failed to give a clear signal for diversity, freedom of religion and human rights.”

Is it fair to ask Al-Rawi how newly built Christian churches would be treated in Muslim countries? Or would that be an “intolerant” question?

Some say that the Swiss Supreme Court may overturn the decision, as it violates freedom of religion. Nevermind that minarets are not essential in Islamic worship. Is it also fair to ask, then, that calling this event a rejection of freedom of religion is an exaggeration?

America needs to seriously analyze Europe’s reactions to Muslim immigrants, who have made it clear they are not willing to assimilate or place local laws above Sharia law. Are Switzerland and France’s growing disapproval of Muslim politics justified, or are they merely intolerant peons who place no value in diversity?

No matter how we view our European counterparts, we will soon be faced with the same pressing issue in America. Will we succumb to outside influence in the name of diversity? Or will we suppress diversity in the hopes of upholding the law of the land?

If America’s past policies on illegal immigration are any indication, I would wager that we will willingly succumb to outside influence, as evidenced by the fact that “Dora the Explorer” and “Handy Manny” are actively teaching our kids to assimilate into Hispanic culture rather than the other way around.

Get ready for two new kids’ shows on the Disney channel next fall: “Chic Sheikh,” which follows the exploits of a stylish Islamic teacher who solves religious mysteries, and “Abdullah Oblongata,” whose protagonist uses his knowledge of surgical procedures to implant the Qu’ran into the brains of non-believers.

Josh Phillips is a senior business administration major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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