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Swiss Today, Here Tomorrow?

A few years ago Robert Kagan wrote a polemic with the amusing title of Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. Don't kid yourself. When it comes to conjuring up hobgoblins, both sides are on the same wave length.

Just in time for Bill O'Reilly's annual moan-fest about the heathen's war on Christmas comes news that Switzerland has voted to prohibit the construction of new minarets. (They can still build mosques.) I'll leave it to others to explore the domestic dynamics behind the Swiss vote, but the early rush of arguments offered by U.S. apologists of the ban could be plucked from any of the countless culture war moments from the last two decades that have pitted an "us" against "them."

The usual cohort enthusiastically endorsed the vote to (in their words) stop the Islamisation of Europe while offering kudos to the Swiss for a job well done. So it is that National Review's David Pryce-Jones neatly set up a straw man to knock over with the help of this admirably snarky verbal smack down: "No country in Europe quite knows what to do about the Muslims who have come to live there. What exactly should be conceded to them, and why? These puzzling questions go to the core of national identity. Defying those who claim the right to set the terms of public debate, the Swiss have tried to draw a line. Whether the opinion-making elite of the entire continent will allow them to keep to it is quite another matter."

Amazing how much he misunderstands in that brief paragraph. Juan Cole offers a far more nuanced review of Europe's interaction with Islam. But I was curious. After finishing Pryce-Jones' piece, I turned to Google and found this 2007 piece by Pat Buchanan warning how unnamed elites had allowed an immigrant invasion to swamp the "Anglo" populations of California, Texas and New Mexico.

Both Buchanan and Pryce Jones fault out-of-touch intellectuals and bureaucrats for being, well, out of touch, and leading their nations down the wrong path. If you read between the lines, it's easy to unearth the more telling subtext - especially in Europe, where the unresolved questions about ethnic and religious assimilation now coming to the fore. The fact is that white, Christian Europeans are afraid. Chalk it up partly to lingering post-9/11 fears of domestic terrorism, which still loom large. Their nervousness no doubt has been exacerbated by financial stresses brought on by economic globalization as well as last year's devastating financial collapse. But now the Swiss have brought it all out into the open, it's become a political issue. Apropos, remember the hackles raised in February when the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested that Britain adopt parts of Sharia, or Islamic law. He said the challenge was how to incorporate communities which may "relate to something other than the British legal system alone." Though even the Muslim Council of Britain said most of its members did not want the imposition of Sharia, the archbishop's statement invited a storm of criticism.

Pryce-Jones' ideological landsman Daniel Pipes, writes that since a majority of the Swiss electorate have now "explicitly expressed anti-Islamic sentiments" the vote paves the way for the rest of Europe to follow. The irony, according to Pipes is that "it was the usually quiet, low-profile, un-newsworthy, politically boring, neutral Swiss who suddenly roared their fears about Islam only enhances their votes' impact."

For the record, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, is not buying that interpretation. Demonstrating a uniquely original interpretation of the vote, Widmer-Schlumpf said the vote was "about minarets and not, of course, about the Islamic community."


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