Switzerland has made a name for its prohibition of minarets. Although a new initiative is widely criticized for being right-wing populism, the topic deserves some more attention.
Burkas don’t just cause discussions, they are indeed extremely unattractive, not to say scary. Casual and regular readers of my blog might know that I’m generally very much in favour of tolerance and that I have repeatedly defended the Islamic world. Yet, as much as I’m opposed to right-wing populism, I must say that the voices which call for a ban on burkas in Switzerland are more than just that. Those who simply see the action from a PR perspective fail to understand the general interests and aims of the people. In a world in which war, terror, brutal murders and cruelty dominate almost all aspects of our daily lives, people wish more than ever to simply live in peace and find a refuge where to hide. Needless to say that in today’s Europe which struggles to cope with thousands of asylum seekers arriving daily, places to hide get smaller.
The terror of Islamic extremists have made their ways around our households not only in recent times and under the terror of IS (Islamic State), but for many years. Parallel to the increasing terror, citizens with Muslim background are more present in our daily lives: on one hand in the form of a trend towards radicalization of their religious customs, on the other in form of an increasing number of wealthy tourists enjoying the luxury of the capitalist world. The flip side of the story is that whereas two decades ago we used to talk about the horrible tortures in form of a ‘full-body cover’ that women undergo in Islamic countries, we are now confronted with living mummies walking through our streets and eating cakes at the same coffee shop as we do. Citizens are scared and I believe they can’t be blamed, at least not any longer since the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ terror. And as our freedom is thus being further reduced to areas such as religion, cultural heritage or our ‘homes’, citizens try to regain the power of the spaces they believe belongs to them.
It can be argued that the freedom of everyone is to walk around the way they please. However, does this apply to us the way it does to religious extremists? In Switzerland it is a general law that people are not allowed to cover their entire face and while we are being punished for infringements, we should close our eyes on visitors out of courtesy? Everyone working in Islamic countries knows how hard it is to even drink a beer after a hard day working. Is that tolerance for our needs and desires? Do we need to punish others if we decide not to drink beer but they do, or kill others if they eat meat from animals that we consider to be holy? More than a lack of tolerance, opposition against burkas are foremost a reaction to increasing radicalization of religious terror. Unfortunately, those distancing themselves from the initiative fail to understand their fellow citizens and instead are only driven by the economic benefits they gain from doing business with rich Arabs shopping in Switzerland.
More than weighting the bans or acceptance of burkas, what we need is a discussion on the level to which we tolerate religious extremism and when it’s time to set a limit. It’s good if the discussions start, everything else is closing our eyes (or veils) on the reality.