Monday, November 30, 2009

Of Minarets and Muezzins

Two interesting news stories about the relationship between State and Religion in Western countries.

The news stories are abuzz with the Swiss Referendum which voted to ban construction of new Minarets in Switzerland.

At the same time there is a law being drafted here in Israel by MK Aryeh Bibi (Kadima) which would limit the Muezzin, the pre-dawn call to prayer which disrupts the sleep of many people who live near a Mosque (including in many mixed cities like Jerusalem, Haifa, or Chevron where many Jewish residents are also woken with the 4:00 call to prayer).

I found the results of the Swiss referendum alarming. To me it is amazing that there could be a restriction on religious buildings in a Western Democracy – although Switzerland has a strange relationship with religious minorities. Shchita has been banned in Switzerland for a long time, and many Cantons prohibit religious cemeteries (the Jewish Cemetery in Geneva is on the French border, and technically in France, not Switzerland).

But even with the limits on religion in Switzerland, I still find this blanket ban puzzling. I could understand if there were specific building codes that Minarets have to confirm to, just as I am sure that there are building codes for Church bell towers or other structures.

But a blanket ban on all new minarets seems to be pure and simply hostility to all Muslims, and this is the essence of the Problem.

Yes there have been many horrific acts carried out in the name of Islam. According to radical Islam has carried out more than 14,000 deadly terror attacks since 9-11. I don’t think that any other religious or political group has carried out even close to that number. I’m still trying to find a list of recent Lutheran or Unitarian terrorist attacks, but I’m reasonably certain that it’s less than 14,000.

But if almost all recent terrorist attacks have been carried out in the name of Islam, it does not follow that all Muslims are terrorists. In fact the opposite is true, the vast majority of Muslims are as repulsed by this abuse and mis-use of religion as anyone. In fact moderate Muslims are probably more upset as it reflects badly on them and their community (is there an Islamic equivalent of “Chillul HaShem”?)

And that is the problem with the proposed ban in Switzerland. It does not differentiate between moderate Muslims and radical Islamists. In fact it does the opposite, it lumps them all together in one basket.

To quote Daniel Pipes, "militant Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution". if we want to identify potential terrorists, we can’t declare war on Islam, rather we should work with moderate Muslims to strengthen their influence within their own communities and at the same time try to identify and stop radical militant Islam.

Unfortunately the Swiss Referendum seems a giant step in the opposite direction.

If there is one silver lining in this vote, they have now clearly put the ball in the Muslim Community's court. The Muslim community can respond within the norms of democracy, to appeal the results in front of the courts, parliament, or in the media, or alternatively they can resort to violent protest.

Lets see what path the Muslim community adopt, and lets hope that their actions don’t prove that the ban was justified, or at least justifiable.

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