Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Of foxes, chickens, direct democracy, and Swiss minarets

I suppose that when one considers that we live in a country where the sale of 100 watt incandescent light bulbs is banned, the ban on building minarets in Switzerland does not seem quite so bizarre.

The fascinating thing about this decision is that (unlike the light bulb ban), it was taken not by politicians, but by the ordinary people, voting in a referendum. I must confess that I admire the Swiss system of allowing citizens to over-ride the will of the politicians by making decisions in referenda. I think we should have more direct democracy in Britain. But should we allow a vote like this?

Let’s look at the issues concerned. There are two sets of rights. One is the right of people to build minarets. The other is the right of people not to have to look at minarets. Now I am willing to submit that in picture postcard alpine villages, with their baroque church towers, a minaret would look somewhat out of place. But this vote is not merely about banning minarets in some scenic areas, it is about banning them everywhere in the country. And, to be honest, minarets are not horrible looking. Many are quite aesthetically pleasing. I can see no argument that people have a right not to look at a minaret. And if the Swiss are worried about being woken by a call to prayer at some unearthly hour in the morning, I would suggest that alternative legislation could be used.

Or perhaps they believe that Islam is not a good thing, and they wish to stop its spread. Well, I too believe that Islam is not a good thing. As a Christian, I take the view that any religious system that teaches that Jesus Christ was merely a prophet, and not the eternal, incarnate Son of God, is a bad thing. That does not mean, of course that I want to ban it or believe that the law should be used to inhibit its spread. But even if I did, I can’t see how banning the building of minarets would help. In short, it is pointless and petty and will probably do nothing to stop the spread of Islam in Switzerland.

So this all comes down to the right of Muslims in Switzerland to build their mosques the way that they want to build them, since minarets do no harm to anyone. Which means that Swiss law permits referenda which are designed to take away some of the freedoms - religious freedoms, in this case - of some of its citizens. One is reminded of the saying: “Democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to have for dinner.”

And as for the argument that you won’t see any church towers in Saudi Arabia, this must be the worst argument of all in favour of the Swiss decision. Whatever happened to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”? (Luke 6:31) I trust that all serious followers of Jesus Christ in Switzerland voted against this ridiculous ban.


Rob said...

I agree with your take on this, and Countingcats had a good post about this, too:


Peter.Thornes said...

“Democracy is two foxes and a chicken deciding what to have for dinner.”

I usually admire the Swiss deference to the people, and though it now does raise this sort of problem, in fairness it is true of any majority rule democracy.

Normally what THEN happens is a referral to a constitution, to a supreme court, to make sure any suggested law does not interfere with human rights as laid out in previous law or the constitution.
The same can of course be applied to referendums

So I think the criticism of the Swiss system we now see in the media of other countries is a bit unjust.

Peter said...

Re light bulb ban

Disappointing to see the Swiss ban
- what with hardly having any power station CO2 emissions anyway, as I understand.

Bans are wrong anyway:
Supposed savings aren't there, and if they were, ordinary people of course pay for the energy and how they wish to use it
(note: no great "savings" anyway by banning what people DON'T want to buy!)

It might sound great to force manufacturers to make "more efficient products" but unfortunately
appearance, construction, light quality all change with such demands, even when just applied to ordinary incandescent lights. So Halogens, while related, are still different, apart from also costing more.
Of course the irony increases given all the known problems with fluorescent lights, the main suggested replacements.

I have extensively covered the light bulb ban issues

The unpublicised industrial politics behind EU (and other) bans

Stuart said...

A week or so ago, I would simply have applauded this move by the Swiss frankly, but having been struck down, by the seeming impossibility to defy the libertarian logic, I am in confusion over this issue as many others.

I think I am undergoing a worldview change, which isn't always easy....

Young Mr. Brown said...

Yes, it is a good post at Counting Cats. And Counting Cats is a helpful blog - one of many, that alas, I simply don't have time to read.

Peter Thornes
Fair point.

Thanks for those links.

Well, they do say that one week is a long time in politics. Yes, undergoing a world-view change isn't always easy. In the past couple of years I've re-thought and changed my mind on political beliefs that I have held firmly for decades.

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