Vote to ban minarets wasn’t necessarily Islamophobic (it says here)

SVP anti-minaret posterJoan Smith offers her profound thoughts on the result of the Swiss referendum:

“I don’t doubt that some people voted for the ban for racist reasons, but damning them all as ‘Islamophobes’ is an attempt to suppress entirely reasonable arguments about the role of religion in secular modern societies. Tariq Ramadan doesn’t use the word in his polemic but he does claim without qualification that ‘voters were drawn to the cause by a manipulative appeal to popular fears and emotions’.

“Corralling a wide range of people, many of whom disagree profoundly with each other, under one great Islamophobic umbrella is a familiar tactic but it’s not conducive to civilised discussion. If the debate about the powers demanded and enjoyed by religion – all of them, not just Islam – pops up in distorted forms in European countries, it is as much the responsibility of religious apologists such as Ramadan as it is the racist right….

“Any notion of universal human rights recognises the right of individuals to practise their religion, but that isn’t incompatible with believing that religion is divisive and seeks to exercise unelected power…. If you take that position, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that public displays of religious symbols should be kept to a minimum, whether they take the form of crucifixes or hijabs. As Ian Traynor reports in today’s Guardian, the proposed ban on minarets in Switzerland received ‘substantial support on the left and among secularists worried about the status of women in Islamic cultures’.”

Comment is Free, 30 November 2009

Cf. Sholto Byrne’s comments on his New Statesman God Blog. He too notes left-wing and secularist support for the minaret ban, and observes that “it is part of the paradox of Western liberalism that its pluralism only extends so far, and that it is essentially intolerant of anything that does not stem from its own ‘definitive’ culture”.