Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ayaan Hirsi Ali weighs in on Swiss ban of minarets

In case you're not familiar with the story: in a surprising move, the Swiss government voted to ban minarets from being built a few weeks ago.  Minarets are tall spires with crowns at the top, built on or around mosques.  Those who support the ban claim that minarets represent a political ideology, and not a religious one, since minarets never appear in any Islamic canon.  Thus, they are protecting the country from political influences of fundamentalist Islam.  Those against the ban view this as a clear hindrance to freedom of religion.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled her home country of Somali to escape a fundamentalist Muslim family, and is now a fierce critic of Islam, wrote an opinion piece supporting the ban, called Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and freedom.  She echoes the claim above:

The recent Swiss referendum that bans construction of minarets has caused controversy across the world. There are two ways to interpret the vote. First, as a rejection of political Islam, not a rejection of Muslims. In this sense it was a vote for tolerance and inclusion, which political Islam rejects.

In other words, we are rejecting Islam's intolerance, therefore being more tolerant.

While I greatly respect Ms. Ali**, I have to disagree with her on this issue.  Being a free society means that we must allow everyone to hold and express their beliefs, even those that we disagree with.  I may vehemently disagree with the bigoted and irrational views of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, but I also believe they have the right to hold and express those beliefs, as long as they do not encroach on others' rights. It is not more tolerant to disallow Muslims to express their religious or political ideology***.  In fact, by passing this law, the Swiss government rejects the same tolerance and inclusion that Ali claims is rejected by Islam.

Ali claims later in the article that immigrant Muslims "feel that they are entitled, not only to practice their religion, but also to replace the local political order with that of their own."  That may be the case, but it does not mean that they actually are replacing Swiss political order with that of their own.  It's still illegal in Switzerland to enact sharia law, regardless of the minarets, and what fundamentalist Muslim may desire.  Feeling entitled, even irrationally, is not a crime.

It's up to the Swiss government to enforce rational, Western laws on all citizens, regardless of their religion.  That means that fundamentalist Muslims don't get special treatment to practice their religion in a way that is violent, as some do in the Islamic world.  However, that also means all citizens, including Muslims, are entitled to the same freedoms and protection thereof.

Allowing Muslims in Switzerland to freely hold and express their beliefs is not equivalent to accepting or embracing them.  Their freedom is matched by the freedom of other, rational people to rebuke those beliefs loudly and publicly, as should be done to any fundamentalist group touting hysterical 7th century ideology of conquest and brutality.  The Swiss government should allow them to lose in the marketplace of ideas, not stoop to their level by denying the outgroup their rights.

**I highly recommend her autobiography, Infidel, if you're curious about the treatment of women and children in the Islamic world.

***I should note that I am not personally making a claim about whether the minaret actually is a political symbol or only a religious one.  I don't know enough to make that decision, and it is irrelevant to my argument above.  I also didn't address the difference between banning the minaret as an architectural feature, as opposed to banning expression in other ways.  Since all of the arguments for the ban focus on the political message of the minaret, the reasoning is solely about the message sent, not the structure itself.***


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