The entire world was abashed when the results of a poll against the construction of new minarets in Switzerland have been published.
The extreme right party – Swiss People’s Party (SVP) – launched such a gross campaign against the minarets, using posters showing a woman with a burqa facing a Swiss flag covered with missile-shaped minarets, that everybody expected a defeat of the populist party.
But inf fact a majority of 57.7 % voted for the ban of minarets construction in Switzerland.
The Swiss People Party clearly exploited the irrational fear of “extensive islamisation” of the country and wanted to stop the Muslim tsunami…
But what tsunami ? There are 400.000 Muslims in Switzerland, out of a total population of 7.739.000 inhabitants. Most of them work and are perfectly integrated in Swiss social life. There are about 400 mosques in Switzerland and… 4 minarets!
So, people voted mostly against a fantastical fear, against a thread that merely doesn’t exist. They attacked the symbol of a ghost, the ghost of winding up in an alien invasion…
But the result is a wider gap between communities and broader misunderstanding. Muslims are sad and disappointed : they believed their Swiss neighbors trusted them. They discover that it is so easy to trigger an irrational fear among normal populations…
The Swiss themselves are astonished. They expected the proposal to be wiped away as a dirty cloth. And yet, a majority of them heard the poisoned discourse of an extremist party and followed it… Some even said “I am ashamed to be Swiss today”.
Who knows at what extend the trust between the communities has been broken ? Who can tell to what extreme will the next moves be ?
The limits of direct democracy
How was this possible ?
The Swiss 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy which includes the right to organize a referendum on a topic, as long as they gather 50.000 signatures within 100 days (find more in this Wikipedia article).
That’s what happened with the minarets. The Swiss People Party gathered the sufficient number of signatures and proposed the ban against the future construction of minarets.
This also shows the limits of a direct democracy. The results of a referendum are highly dependent of how the question was asked and the topic presented to the voters. In this case, it was a fearful and hateful campaign that triggered the all process. And the results are a shameful blow to the religious freedom of 400.000 people in a country which has been boasting about its religious tolerance for centuries…
But, is a democracy that legally denies freedom of religious practice still a democracy ? When a democratic state denies its fundamental values in such a way, is it still a democratic state ?
In Switzerland itself, politicians are rather annoyed and you can see they don’t feel at ease about this vote (see the reaction of Micheline Calmy-Rey, Swiss Foreign Minister on this Guardian Video).
Abroad, reactions vary : the democrats are astonished and don’t understand why a centuries old democracy such Switzerland came to vote this way. Populists and extreme right parties , such as the Lega Nord in Italy, are already taking the opportunity to promote such hatred and exclusion at home…
The United Nation warned the Swiss authorities even before the ban was proposed, arguing that it was an obvious discrimination, calling it “an unjustified restriction of religious freedom. Now, legal expert of the UN are examining the legal issues of this election.