I figure I may as well anger both sides right from the title, since my response to the just approved measure banning the construction of Minarets in Switzerland, will no doubt disturb both those sympathetic to the move and those most deeply opposed to it. Neither side gets it right though. The measure’s supporters are generally fear-driven haters of Islam in general and all Muslims as a group, while the latter are too-often mindless apologists for a community whose internal crisis threatens us all.
The idea that minaret construction is inherently problematic is neither reasonable nor intelligent. It’s unreasonable because it assumes that all religious expression by Muslims threatens the public welfare and its security. That would only be true if all Muslims and every teaching of Islam were as hateful and violent as the majority of Swiss voters seem to believe. Of course, such blanket condemnations of any religious tradition are absurd at best and deeply ugly at worst.
There is no such thing as a religion which is inherently bad or inherently good, no matter how often the lovers and loathers of particular faiths insist that it is so. The fact is that every tradition has both spilled the blood of others and seen its own members die for that which they believe. No, the numbers may not be same for each faith, but that is more a matter of historical opportunity than essential teachings.
The ban is also foolish in that it addresses the public’s fear of Islam as a repressive and freedom-rejecting tradition by repressing religious expression and stripping citizens of the right to worship freely! The irony is compounded in a nation so proud of it’s many churches, themselves often products of the ongoing reform of Christian tradition and themselves occasionally guilty of their own hostility to those of other faiths.
Yet the fear into which the measure’s sponsors tapped is real and not entirely unreasonable.
In fact, unless the opposition to the measure assume that those in favor are as mindlessly hateful as the sponsors think all Muslims are, then it is absolutely necessary for Muslims to carefully consider how the actions of Muslims around the world fertilize the soil in which the seeds of hatred grow so well.
I am not suggesting that the victims be blamed for the hateful legislation directed at them, nor am I suggesting that there is any place for collective guilt in any decent legal system. But collective responsibility is not the same as collective guilt.
In a world where girls are beaten for wearing the wrong skirt, as one was this week in Sudan, where Copts are routinely assaulted as they were again this week in Egypt, and where hatred of Christians, Jews, Atheists and pretty much anything else deemed to be non-Muslim is preached by more than a few clerics, as is the case across Europe, some real soul-searching is in order. It’s not that all are guilty, but when people claim membership in a global community, they do share a measure of responsibility.
Why, if Muslims can take to the streets in the millions when an offensive cartoon is published or teddy bear is named Muhammad, is there no public protest against these actions? Why if Muslims could protest offensive laws banning minarets, head scarves, or other such repressive measures, is their no protest when Muslims attack churches, or burn synagogues in the name of Islam?
In a world of 24/7 imaging and sound bites, big public acts get noticed, whether for good or for bad, and they shape public consciousness. That is why it is important for all people to speak out against the Swiss ban, and equally important for all Muslims to act as big and speak as loudly in defense of the rights of others as they do in defense of their own. In a globalized world, we are all connected and failure to do so will simply empower the haters and the xenophobes everywhere.
So whether as an act of enlightened self-interest or as an expression of traditional Islamic teaching about the spiritual dignity of all human beings, the same voice which rails against the Swiss, calls for action on the part of Muslims. The world is still waiting for a response.