Anyone who wants to obtain a sense of the havoc that architecture can wreak on a nation’s identity, need only visit Moscow. In the many churches and public buildings surviving from the 13th century onwards, you can gaze upon the ghost of the Mongol conquest of Russia, characterized by the bulbous and ubiquitous onion dome. The prevalence of the dome has left such an eerily Asian stamp on the landscape, that looking at it you can easily forget that you are standing on European soil. Indeed, Russia’s historic defensiveness and traditional resistance to be being brought within the European ambit is at least partly attributable to its connections to Asia, cemented during the 200 years of Mongol rule.
No one can dispute that conquerors usually have the last word on architectural style in their vanquished realms. The Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish empires all left their permanent architectural mark on the nations they conquered and there is little doubt that the manner and style of their constructions also had a significant impact on the way the people of those conquered territories thought of themselves.
Perhaps that’s what the Swiss citizenry remembered when they voted November 29, so decisively, to ban the further construction of minarets in Swiss towns and cities. One can understand the resistance to the encroachment of Muslim architecture. It is, after all, difficult to imagine a Swiss chalet, nestled in one of those pleasantly verdant Alpine villages, forced to compete with a minaret for the domination of its skyline.
But there is much more than aesthetics involved in the Swiss decision. It represents a turning point in European awareness of the threat to national identity encouraged by relentless Muslim encroachment.
This was expressly recognized by a report from The Egerkinger Committee – an alliance of the conservative Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union of Switzerland, responsible for placing the initiative on the ballot. The committee reported that “the construction of a minaret has no religious meaning. Neither in the Qur’an, nor in any other holy scripture of Islam, is the minaret expressly mentioned. The minaret is far more a symbol of a religious-political power claim.”
The initiators justified their point of view by quoting parts of a speech made by the would-be Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 1997: “Mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers. This holy army guards my religion.” Ulrich Schluer, who is one of the Egerkinger committee’s most prominent exponents, states in this respect: “A minaret has nothing to do with religion: It just symbolizes a place where Islamic law is established.”
The success of the initiative is even more startling when we appreciate the alliance of forces that were arrayed against it. The Swiss Federal Council, the seven-member executive council which serves as the Swiss collective head of state, rejected the initiative. The Federal Assembly, (the Swiss Parliament) voted 129-50 in the spring of this year to advise Swiss citizens to spurn it. Both the Catholic Church and the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities came out adamantly in the negative. Advocacy groups such as the Society for Minorities in Switzerland and Amnesty International decried it “as an assault on human rights.” Swiss labor unions such as the influential Economiesuisse claimed it would affect Swiss foreign interests and would cause turmoil in the Islamic world.
These elites, some of whom are now plotting to have the ban overturned, see in the approval of the initiative an atavistic tribalism which threatens their multicultural ethos. They see no problems associated with the spread of Islam in Europe, have no fear of Europe becoming Islamicized, and seem full of confidence that minarets, blaring amplified calls to prayer and set in the middle of suburban streets, can only add to the blessed polyglot magic that is Switzerland.
But it is more likely fear which drives them. Perhaps they all remember the Danish cartoon riots of 2006 and its result – how the Danish government cravenly fell to its knees begging forgiveness from its Muslim population as its embassies in Muslim lands were torched and Danes the world over vigorously denounced.
With such deep seated fear driving opposition, the obvious question remains: how did this initiative pass? If we read deeply enough into the debate and the final vote, we might arrive at the conclusion that the Swiss people have begun to recognize what the emergence of the true ‘multicultural state’ really portends: Perhaps it means the surrender of a united national culture; or maybe the acceptance of values that are at odds with the general thrust of Western humanism; Or, with the confirmation of Muslim power, an ultimate capitulation to Muslim intolerance and its abiding contempt for democratic values.
Awareness of this threat is growing in other parts of Europe. This year the French were convulsed by a debate on whether the burqa, or Islamic veil, should be banned for women in public – a reaction to its ubiquity in certain parts of that country. The initiative did not pass, but the debate itself underlines the discomfort many in France feel about the insistence of Muslim leaders on social separation and their rejection of the majority culture.
Today those who led the successful initiative are being accused of racism, bigotry and prejudice. Yet we must see it all in context. Muslims the world over routinely declare Europe ripe for conquest. They understand that multicultural sensitivities offer them an effective tool to pry open European society, exposing the weakness and lack of self belief at its heart.
Last week, the citizens of Switzerland proved them wrong. Despite the opposition of their elites and despite the unrelenting denunciations of human rights groups, the Swiss declared their commitment to preserving their own and Europe’s heritage. Other European nations may quickly follow suit , confirming the growing consciousness that tolerance of the intolerant is not a recipe for integration but a prescription for the almost certain collapse of national identity.