Without doubt today the image of Swiss democracy abroad has suffered. By a clear majority the Swiss have voted to put into the constitution a ban on building minarets and minarets only. This fact and the wish to make a statement of protests are the reasons why I write for once in English.
The image a majority of Swiss voters have projected for everyone to see, is one of a democracy that indulges in the tyranny of the majority. The image of a democracy where voters are not mature enough to look beyond their own narrow world of interests and where the citizens seem not to be able to take a step back from their dear clichés. Most importantly, today the Swiss voters have shown that they have no respect for their own constitution nor for the rule of law.
I have certainly no sympathies for Islam nor do I for any other religion. But this vote was not about Islam or religious buildings in the first place. It was about an amendment to the constitution that explicitly discriminates a specific religious minority. But a state cannot discriminate between beliefs because they are what they are: A matter of belief, not fact. There lies an important part of the problem. Because you have to believe the truth and you cannot establish it by proof you are likely to be in your own religion’s bubble. What will look like discrimination to an outside observer will seem perfectly fair to you. A majority of Swiss voters was thinking with their guts.1 This is the country which discriminated in its constitution against Jews until 1874 and against Jesuits until 1973 after all.
What happens next? The implementing legislation will lead to further discussions. Perhaps they will find a workaround but I really don’t see how except for a non-implementation. Sooner or later the ban will be challenged by courts probably ultimately by the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Then the right will cry foul. They will launch into their spiel about ‘foreign judges’ and ‘meddling in internal affairs’ which of course never prevented them condescendingly teaching everyone how great the Swiss political system is, that it is the only example to follow and worth imitating.
The next time a Swiss lectures you about our democracy and federalism, do me the favour and just mention the minaret ban. I for my part, I am ashamed of the vote today. Please take note and consider this as a part of Switzerland too. As a Swiss citizen you learn to accept the will of the majority. To a certain extend the system is based on exactly that trust.
It is sad, but today it is one of the few times I have to state: I am not a Swiss democrat.
Or to say it a little bit less prosaically with the words of the German impressionist painter Max Liebermann commenting on the Nazi victory marches: I could not eat as much as I would like to vomit.
1To be fair, it has to be mentioned that the leadership of most churches in Switzerland have opposed the ban and campaigned against it.