On Sunday, to my horror, I discovered that Swiss voters had decided to ban all future construction of Minarets. Minarets are towers traditionally used to call Muslims to prayer five times a day. The initial referendum passed by over 57 percent. Given the Swiss system, due to the margin by which it passed, the ban is now part of the Swiss Constitution. The Swiss Federal Council opposed the ban at first, but it has now accepted the will of the people.
To put this issue into perspective, imagine if the United States banned all crucifixes in churches. Neither Minarets nor crucifixes are strictly necessary for religious practice, but they are representative of the religion and hold a special significance for the faithful. This vote represents a violation of religious civil liberties and human rights as set out by the United Nations’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This referendum was portrayed as complying with strict new laws regulating construction, but it’s much more than that. It unfairly singles out Minarets even though the calls to prayer don’t use speakers, and the Minarets thus cause little disturbance. There are no bans on church bell towers or even mounted speaker systems in Swiss cities — just Minarets.
Advocates of the ban argue that Minarets are political, not religious. According to supporters, the structures represent a growing trend of attempts by Muslims to use politics for religious gains. The main target is the supposedly nonintegrated, unassimilated and backward Muslims falsely accused of trying to create a parallel society.
The Swiss people took away the rights of hundreds of thousands of their legal, taxpaying citizens. Prior to the election, the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the campaign against Minarets, stating that the ban would violate international law. In this case, since these edifices don’t fall under the stipulations of Article 30 of the Declaration of Human Rights, i.e. violating or destroying the rights of others, the ban violates Articles 19 and 27. It denies Muslims the right to express themselves “through any media” and to fully participate in their community — in this case, the national community of Switzerland. Therefore, it unequivocally violates international law.
I join with my Muslim brothers and sisters in solidarity to ask for international intervention against this travesty of democracy. This isn’t an issue about whether you like Minarets or even Muslims — it’s an issue about whether you feel that the right to free thought and expression are acceptable.
Even living across the ocean, I can’t enjoy my religious and intellectual freedoms when I know that other people have lost theirs. It is our duty as members of the international community to try to right this wrong. Speak out and be heard for those who are now without a call.