Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

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Switzerland's landslide vote to ban Muslim minarets surprised many pundits and commentators, more familiar with the nation's image as a bastion of tolerance and European enlightenment.

These results, in fact, are not so surprising. They derive from the peculiar structure of Swiss democracy, which effectively creates a voter base less diverse than the general public. These voters are generally predisposed to support such initiatives as the minaret vote.

I am specifically talking about Swiss citizenship. Becoming a Swiss citizen implies that one has become part of the Swiss people, and the Swiss have a very strict definitions of what this means. Since - of course - only citizens may vote, this strictness directly impacts the Swiss electorate.

While Switzerland may have an image as a tolerant place, its naturalization policy is one of the least tolerant in the Western world.

More below.

Achieving citizenship can be nearly impossible. Some communities routinely reject applicants connected in any manner to Africa or the Balkans, even if have they lived in Switzerland their whole lives. Many applicants must appear before a local citizenship committee, which asks deep-probing questions such as whether the applicant "can imagine marrying a Swiss boy," or if said applicant likes Swiss music.

As a result, 21.9% of the Swiss population is foreign - one of the highest rates in the world. An aspiring immigrant may move to Switzerland, but neither he, nor his children, nor even his grandchildren will be guaranteed citizenship. Nearly 90% of Swiss Muslims face this situation, foreigners in a land some have lived their entire lives in.

Because Swiss immigrants are denied citizenship, they naturally cannot vote: only the Swiss people can. It is no wonder then, that Switzerland's selectively chosen electorate regularly passes initiatives like the minaret law. Or that the anti-immigrant Swiss People's Party won the most seats in the 2007 federal elections.

This is not to say that the Swiss people are particularly intolerant or bigoted. It is a naturally human tendency to be suspicious of outsiders. Nativist sentiments exist throughout the world, whether in English disdain for Eastern Europeans, Japanese dislike of white gaijins, Muslim discrimination against black Africans, or Russian pogroms against Jews.

The problem is that, by restricting citizenship (and therefore the ballot) to only certain groups, Switzerland's peculiar system encourages this inherently human flaw. Switzerland is not the only country with xenophobic sentiment; many Americans, for example despise Spanish-speaking Latinos. But in the United States, these Latinos (or their children) can vote; in Switzerland 90% of Muslims can't vote, because they are denied citizenship. That is why the Swiss People's Party can run an ad like this:

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The Swiss People's Party won that referendum. Republicans, on the other hand, wish to appeal to the Latino electorate; very few would dare do such a thing.

If Switzerland is to prevent more minaret initiatives from passing, it should make naturalization easier - at the very least, for example, it could grant citizenship to third-generation citizens. In doing so, Switzerland can follow America's lead, a country whose naturalization policy is among the most progressive in the world. America is also the world's superpower. That is not a coincidence.

Tags: Elections, Europe, foreigners, immigration, minarets, muslims, naturalization, Politics, Switzerland, United States (all tags)

Comments

8 Comments

Movie recommendation...

Die Schweizermacher

And yes, it is very relevant to your post.  Check out a short description here

And make sure that all your garbage bags are grey, with black tiestrings (joke, understood in light of the movie, or the swiss citizenship test)

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-02 12:08PM | 0 recs
Re: Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

Interesting.  I didn't know this. Thanks for posting.

by markjay 2009-12-02 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

But I was assured at this very site that no country other than Israel would ever think of putting ethnic controls on immigration.

by Steve M 2009-12-02 03:21PM | 0 recs
That is probably unfair to the swiss...

I dont like the Swissmaker process, but my understanding is that it is just as hard on white Christians, even french speaking ones, as it is on other races.  They discriminate very badly on Swiss vs non-Swiss, so the opportunity to discrinate on the basis of religion or ethnicity is not there.

by Ravi Verma 2009-12-02 04:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

I think banning a building type is kind of ridiculous. To deal with the immigration problem, it is simple: limit immigration from other countries. It can help stop radical Islamists from entering, and radical Islamists who engage in incitement to terror should be imprisoned or deported. The fact is that before Muslim immigrants can be treated as others in terms of getting a visa to get into the country, Islamic extremism needs to fade out in their countries of origin. It is very scary that a significant portion of the Muslim population supports Sharia, and hates America and the West. But banning minarets won't solve this issue.

by Lakrosse 2009-12-02 03:33PM | 0 recs
Re: Explaining the Swiss Minaret Vote

Stop being a D!ck (Cheney). Most of the Muslims in Switzerland are from Bosnia, Albania and Turkey. Most of them don't even practice Islam.

by vecky 2009-12-02 03:50PM | 0 recs
Banning building types

Some people need to get a grip. We ban building types all the time in the United States, at all levels of government.

In my State you cannot build a duplex within 200 feet of a designated 'State Shoreline' which includes almost all rivers and most lakes. Why? Well it is a long story but not based on some fear of immigrants crowding into duplexes. Want to build a three story house? Well I worked for ten years issuing building permits and enforcing land use codes and I would tell you that you would not be allowed to do so in an urban residential zone but could in an urban multifamily zone or in any rural zone. Isn't that kind of arbitrary? Well yes but we have our reasons and no you probably won't prevail in court.

Could you build a minaret in Snohomish Country Washington? Well yes, in a handful of land use zones without any restriction other than height and perhaps sound regulations; in others after a special application, rigid review, and a public hearing, with a decision appealable to County Council and then if you like to Superior Court; and in other zones not at all. Would such a denial mean that a similar existing structure would have to be torn down? Maybe, maybe not, if the structure was legal at the time it was built and maintained continuously then no. On the other hand if it had been abandoned for a year or more we might not let it be repaired or replaced. Could all of the restrictions built into the Unified Building Code (now the International Building Code because it covers Canada) combined with Federal and State Environmental Codes plus local Zoning Codes impair the free practice of religion? Absolutely, if your religion requires a chapel built within 200 feet of a flowing river you won't be able to practice it within the State of Washington. Is that because our State has a bias against a hypothetical Church of Christ the Fisherman? Well no.

On the other hand could our County Council deliberately craft our rules in a way that would prevent a Hindu Temple but allow a Christian Church of the same size, dimensions and capacity? Well that is a no as well. Mostly. Potentially if the property was in a designated historical district that required all architecture including commercial and religious to meet a particular design code it might in practice be able to ban your typical mosque plus minaret while allowing a traditional church plus steeple, but it would be a close thing and you could expect to have lawyers involved and maybe court appeals. But even if the town or county jurisdiction lost the case would not necessarily be proof of religious bias.

So people need to take a step back here. It is troubling that this vote was being pushed by a nativist group and clearly appealed to religious prejudice. On the other hand about 100 miles from here is the town of Leavenworth Washington which is built in Bavarian Style and derives most of its income from its transformation into a European holiday wonderland starting with its famed Oktoberfest (http://www.leavenworthoktoberfest.com/) and then in a Christmas/New Years lighted village, its own little piece of the Bavarian Alps. Your chances of getting a building permit to put a minaret on US Hwy 2 going through downtown? Probably zero.

And you can multiply examples around the U.S. anywhere there is a Historical District or a private covenant enforced architectural advisory board. There are probably thousands of communities in this country that would not allow you to paint your house green, not if it wasn't in the CC&Rs and no matter that is was the color of Mohammed. And some of those same communities would not allow Wiccans to build a Beltaine bonfire to jump through or perhaps Christians to put up a 40 foot cross. And depending on how the covenant was written and from what stated motive it might well sustain constitutional challenge. Except when it didn't.

So reducing this Swiss vote to a clear case of religious discrimination is just that: reductionism. There are all kinds of reasons to ban certain building types in certain places, some environmental, some historical, some purely commercial, and others simply to maintain a certain quality of life. That issues of class, race and religion often get intertwined in those decisions does not mean a priori that that was the explicit intent of the rule making.

Would you support the erection of a minaret or a cathedral for that matter within sight of Stonehenge? Or in the middle of Colonial Willamsburg? Or on the village green in some picturesque town in New England? If not does that make you automatically a hateful bigot?

by Bruce Webb 2009-12-03 06:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Banning building types

We're not talking about a neutral zoning regulation that just happens to ban minarets in a given district along with lots of other things.  We're talking about a flat-out ban on minarets motivated by ethnic/religious discrimination.  It is nothing like anything we have in this country - or certainly nothing like what we aspire to.

by Steve M 2009-12-03 09:23AM | 0 recs

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