The Swiss populace has spoken: No new Islamic minarets in Switzerland.
Let me be as clear as I can be about my reaction to this development: I am for religious freedom in principle, as long as it doesn't conflict with basic political freedoms embodied in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. I am not a religious person; I don't practice any formal ritual; and I don't subscribe to any religious cosmology or dogma of behavior or ethical guidance. I was "sort of" raised Protestant, but there was no conviction in our family to speak of. I regard myself as a liberal humanist, and my politics is a hodge-podge of Left and Right positions, arrived at pragmatically on a case by case basis.
I resist the notion of a "Christian" basis for Western political ideals, despite the well-known fact that such religious ideas permeated the culture during the formation of our founding documents and institutions. I dislike the aggressive proselytization which many faiths engage in.
I know little about Islamic faith, and I'm not particularly ambitious to know more. I accept the claims that radical, fatalistic Islamic extremist factions do not represent the core majority and emphasis of belief by most Muslims.
Nevertheless, there are some basic tenets of Islam, which are not compatible with political and personal freedom as we understand it. These principles have historically been restricted to the Middle and Far East, though Islam has been expanding its influence and reach over the last half century--into Africa, Indonesia, parts of Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. This is no surprise, as Christianity did the same thing for centuries; was indeed the accompaniment and "justification" of much of the colonial exploitation and suppression of native peoples and cultures in the so-called Third World (i.e., the "White Man's burden").
History is not static. The face of the planet is now a collection of separate nations, many of which have historical ties and associations which bind them into natural alliances and blocs. Religion, despite what you think of it, has been one common theme in maintaining such alliances. Indeed, religion often transcends national borders, creating super-national spheres in the world. European nations share many such transcendent bonds. So do the nations of the Middle East which are dominated by the Islamic faith.
As Islam has begun to penetrate the European subcontinent, the question of its affect on the resident political and cultural traditions now must be addressed. Christianity has been so much a part of the fabric of European civilization (both Roman Catholicism and the Protestant faiths)--intertwined with the custom and belief and practice of daily life--for so long (centuries)--that it seems a precipitous upheaval would be needed to unseat its position there.
In principle, any parliamentary democracy must enforce religious freedom. But what if a religion involves more than just a private obligation, more than peaceful congregation? What if a religion involves obeisance to a rigid code of practice that divides believers along sexual and racial lines, which rejects democracy and the freedoms which we understand to be consistent with equality and the privileges and entitlements of citizenship?
Can such a religion "co-exist" inside a true democracy without eventually coming into direct conflict with opposing religions, or with non-believers? Can a religion--that makes de-facto slaves out of half of its members, rejects the freedom of others on principle, and creates in effect a separate society (or nation) unto itself--be accommodated inside a Western Democracy, without eventually causing deep conflicts between itself and the larger society of which it's nominally a part?
The question in Switzerland isn't simply a matter of pluralistic religious tolerance. It's a question of the degree to which the Swiss shall entertain the taking over of its society by an alien religious paradigm that is diametrically opposed to the principles it (Switzerland) adheres to. Does the construction of minarets and large mosques constitute a threat to Swiss society? The easy answer, at this stage, might be a naive "no."
But the fabric of Swiss society is inextricably Christian. Should a society regard the aggressive spread of a foreign religion inside its borders as a threat to its identity, to its folk-ways and customs and institutions? The answer to that depends upon what value you put upon the continuity of the institutional fabric of your own national identity.
It is not in the least irrational for the Swiss to believe that the unrestrained spread of Islam will have dire consequences for its cultural identity, as well as its political outlook. It is one thing to trade with Islamic countries, or to serve as their bankers, or to entertain them as vicarious tourists; it's quite another thing to allow Islamic cells to expand willy-nilly into your cities and towns.
For Islam is more than a mere religion. It proposes a theocratic unity of state and church, in which all aspects of daily life are united. It is quite naive to think that a static Islamic presence will allow itself to be marginalized indefinitely by exclusions and restrictions of one kind or another. Its ultimate aim is the control of society. The means by which it achieves this is through religious doctrine. It despises secularism, and regards Western "freedoms" as variations of "sin."
If the Swiss do nothing to restrain Islam, in another 50-100 years it could face internal convulsions, resulting in its transformation into an Islamic theocracy. Wherever Islam has gained a strong foot-hold among the populace, the secular political life has come under intense pressure. This is something the Swiss have decided they want to avoid. Whether restricting the construction of churches (or architectural features) as symbols of unwanted religious influence, will have any deterrent effect upon the spread of Islam in Switzerland, remains to be seen. Can you imagine hearing the Muslim call to prayer in Bern or Zurich or Geneva? Can you imagine a woman fearing to walk in "certain neighborhoods" because of the threat of attack for not being properly attired?
Are the Swiss wrong to imagine that their way of life is in jeopardy? You be the judge.