Thinking Out Loud

January 26, 2010

French Panel Recommends Banning Muslim Face Veils

First, as we reported here on November 30th, it was the Swiss banning minarets from Muslim mosques.   Today, it’s the French government pushing for limitations on the niqab, which covers everything but the eyes.

Here’s the first part of the report from the religion page of USAToday online:

PARIS (AP) — A parliamentary panel that wants Muslim women to stop veiling their faces recommended Tuesday that France ban such garb in public facilities, including hospitals and mass transit, and a leading panel member said he foresees such an interdiction by the end of 2010.

The nearly 200-page report contains a panoply of measures intended to dissuade women from wearing all-enveloping veils in France. It also recommends refusing residence cards and citizenship to anyone with visible signs of a “radical religious practice.”

However, there is no call to outlaw such garments — worn by a tiny minority of Muslims — in private areas and in the street. A full ban was the major issue that divided the 32-member, multiparty panel which ultimately heeded warnings that a full ban risked being deemed unconstitutional and could even cause trouble in a country where Islam is the second-largest religion.

Emphasis added.   Continue reading here.

[Note: for a clarification of the difference between Hijab, Burqua and Niqab, check out this page at ApologeticsIndex.org.]

For Christians, any issue of religious freedom has to be seen in terms of the larger context.   You may have personal feelings about this issue, but you can’t allow those feelings to cloud objectivity.

What if Christian businessmen weren’t allow to have fish symbols on their suit lapels, or women couldn’t wear “Jesus is the reason for the season” pins at Christmas, or your teenage kids couldn’t wear all those T-shirts they got at the last Creation Festival?     While these may seem minor accouterments compared to the Niqab, there will be some parallel issues for Christians to consider if a precedent is set.

There’s also the issue when this story is weighed together with the story from Switzerland of what happens if a strong anti-Muslim sentiment starts building.    My personal belief is that this would have eventually become an issue with or without what happened on September 11th, 2001.

Another dimension of a story like this surfaces when we consider how little we know about the “denominations” of Islam.    Many of us in Western society — and I’m saying ‘us’ to be honest — are very fearful of radical Islam, yet when my wife and visited two different mosques last year, we encountered very pleasant, very ‘normal’ people that I would have no problem having as neighbors.  (Perhaps even more so than the neighbors I now have.)   Later, the story goes on to say,

The veil is widely viewed in France as a gateway to extremism, an insult to gender equality and an offense to France’s secular foundation. A 2004 French law bans Muslim headscarves from primary and secondary school classrooms.

The language in the report was carefully chosen in an effort to avoid offending France’s estimated 5 million Muslims — the largest such population in western Europe — and accusations of discrimination. Muslim leaders have already complained that the debate over the full veil coupled with an ongoing debate on French national identity has left some Muslims feeling their religion is becoming a government target.

This is an ongoing story, and no doubt other countries in the EU are yet to weigh in on the debate.   What is interesting is that the Swiss confronted architecture, while the French are confronting fashion.

Denominations chart: Gospel for Muslims (click image for site).  Niqab: Toronto Life Magazine.

As the niqab increasingly becomes part of our vocabulary, you now have another Scrabble word that doesn’t need a “u” after “q.”  (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

November 30, 2009

Switzerland Votes to Prohibit Minarets

I never knew when I wrote my original post on this subject on September 18th, that when the vote took place two months later, it would generate so many new visits here.

According to traffic on this blog on the days leading up to and after the Swiss voted on the weekend to prohibit Muslim mosques from constructing minarets (the spire shaped towers) that are used to call the faithful to prayer, this is an issue for which there is intense interest, most probably because it  has a bearing on religious freedom not only in Switzerland, but also where you live, and around the world.

To see a short 2-minute report on the issue as it made news in Canada, you can watch this one at CBC News.  Although the post is quite sweeping in its coverage of the vote, the title — not fully explored — is intriguing, “Could a Minaret Ban Happen Here:  An Examination of What Might Happen if Canadian Tolerance Weakens.”   Did Swiss tolerance weaken?  Or was it never truly there in the first place?

Here’s a commentary at Beliefnet that also summarizes what happened if you’re coming to this for the first time:

All Muslims are Taliban, Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism, and Shari’a is the new Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That’s the operational reality that Muslims in Europe must acknowledge, in the wake of a referendum to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland:

stoppJa

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.

Civil Libertarians were quick to decry the results.  Even The Vatican condemned the loss of freedom of religion.   One political writer and talk-radio host suggested that the vote will have both a cause and effect influence on Switzerland’s future immigration dynamics.   Another writer suggests that the vote now introduces a whole new set of problems.

The Muslim blog, Islam in Europe, notes reactions from several different countries.    A gay Canadian blogger suggests that Islamophobic and Homophobic groups share a common strategy.

As you can see, there is no end of coverage on this over the last few hours.   So I contacted our anonymous correspondent in Switzerland from the September blog post for a grassroots reaction, which gets the last word:

It seems that the result of the referendum came as a surprise to everyone.  I think even people that voted in support of the ban were surprised that it went through.

The media here has gone crazy of course, saying it shows that the Swiss are afraid of Muslims, that the vote was decided by fear.  I personally don’t think that’s true.  It’s not like the Swiss are going to tear down the minarets that are already built, mosques have not been forbidden and the Muslims are not being expelled from the country.  They have the right to meet, to practice their religion and to have their mosques.  It’s been said in the media that a lot of them meet in old warehouses or industrial buildings, but so do most evangelical Christians.  (The only Protestant churches here are state owned and run.)  And it’s not like Christians are allowed to go into a Muslim country to build a cathedral.  I feel like that’s more the point.  It’s not a vote of fear, but of fairness.  If people want to move to another country and integrate into that country, there needs to be a bit of give and take.  Like I said before, they are still allowed to practice Islam, still allowed to build mosques.  Religion is not a building.  A church is more than four walls and a spire with a cross on the top.  It’s not a vote banning Islam, it’s a vote banning towers.

The other interesting thing is that, in our canton (province) only 52% of eligible voters actually voted.  It would be interesting to know what everyone else thinks…

And in the wake of all this, people are not talking about the fact that the Swiss also voted to keep exporting arms to other countries.  Why is everyone so concerned that we can’t build a tower, and not concerned about people killing each other with Swiss army material?  Sometimes I wonder about the media’s priorities…

September 18, 2009

You Knew We Were a Christian Country, So Why Did You Move Here?

There was something in the USAToday story I wasn’t fully grasping:

By Stephen Brown, Religion News Service
Minaret and crossGENEVA — The Swiss Council of Religions, which includes Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, has issued a statement rejecting a call for a nationwide ban on the construction of minarets at mosques. Some Swiss groups want to ban minarets out of fear of Europe’s growing Muslim population.

“For the members of a religious community, religious buildings are not only places to gather but also a symbol of their faith and an expression of their reverence for God. For many Muslims, therefore, mosques need to have minarets,” the council said in a 5-page statement issued Wednesday.

“The prohibition of minarets would injure these people in their dignity and their basic right to practice their religion,” the council warned.

The move to ban the construction of minarets was submitted in July 2008 with just under 115,000 signatures, and will be decided in a national referendum on Nov. 29.

If passed, the measure would amend the country’s Federal Constitution to include a new article stating that, “The construction of minarets is prohibited.”

…”Everyone has the right in this country to live their faith visibly, freely and in a community within the framework of the public order,” it [the Council of Religions] stated. “This also includes the construction of places of worship that are typical for their respective religions.”

~~read the entire article, with reader comments, here.

So I e-mailed someone who lives there, who I’ll let remain anonymous.   This provides more backstory, the section in italics (added) really holds the key:

minaretRight now it’s not illegal to build a minaret. However, like trying to build anything in Switzerland, there’s a TON of red tape!  There are already 4 or 5. However there is one political party that collected over 100,000 signatures against building them, enough to send it to a referendum.

Their argument is that minarets are not mentioned at all in the Koran, and that they are more a political symbol of conquest than they are of religious freedom. They also question why these people have fled places where they are not allowed to practice their religion, so why didn’t they go somewhere that is mostly Muslim, instead of coming to Switzerland? In Switzerland there are only two recognized religions, Christianity (Protestant and Catholic) and Jewish, other religions have the freedom to practice and the meet, but they are not recognized by the state.

They are also concerned about Muslims asking for changes in other areas, like what is taught at school. Bible reading used to be normal in Swiss schools, since it is considered a Christian country, but the Muslims are fighting it, and now it has all but disappeared. I guess the idea is, they chose to be here knowing it was predominantly Protestant (the church is state run), it’s not fair that they want to change it now to suit them. I’m not saying I agree with all of that, but that’s the stance of the party that is fighting against the building of the minarets.

Not to mention that a sunrise call to worship would never get past the noise laws here; or the architectural laws for that matter…they are REALLY picky about the style you build here…we were afraid they wouldn’t accept the siding on our house!

So what happens when people of faith groups which are foreign to a particular piece of geography decide to move there?   Do they do so with the express intention of changing the religious climate there?   Increasing tolerance?   Warming the local population up to greater cultural and political influence and involvement?

Obviously the question that forms the title of this post is moot in some respects.   It’s possible that some people of other faith groups move into areas specifically because they are dominated by Christians.

But that brings us to something else altogether:

How is this different from the Christian Missionary movement?   Do we not also go into countries which are dominated by other faiths to proclaim the message of Christianity?   Do we not erect places of worship in those countries with our symbol (the cross) clearly visible on the exterior of these buildings?   Do we not seek to build bridges into the larger community so that these people have a day-to-day, living, breathing experience of what Christ-followers look like?

We tend to see this issue from our Christian point of view, forgetting that whatever freedoms apply to us have to apply to all.   But obviously here there is another factor at work, to which I added italics in the second quotation — “they are more a political symbol of conquest than they are of religious freedom.” One campaign initiator (watch the video link below) believes the desire to build minarets is a desire to “change the social order.”

But who decides this?

And does a referendum somewhat defeat the purpose?   Will voters grasp the larger issues or will they simply maintain the status quo?

You can almost feel the tension here on the other side of the Atlantic.

Pictures:

Upper:  This is the picture that accompanied the USAToday story, juxtaposing the minaret with a Protestant church steeple.   From this angle, neither seems much different than the other.
Lower:  This picture shows minarets towering over a local skyline.   Are voters picturing the upper picture or the lower one?

Learn more:

Our contact in Switzerland recommended this website, where we found this video story.

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