December 8, 2009

Minarets of Dystopia

Is the ban on new construction of minarets resulting from the 2009 Swiss Referendum Islamophobic? Absolutely! I have little doubt that the 57.5% majority vote, with 22 out of the 26 Cantons approving the ban — enough to amend the Federal Constitution of Switzerland, if necessary — has been motivated by Islamophobia, a primal fear of Islamic supremacy. A primal fear that the arcane of code of conduct, imposed by the Koran and the Hadiths through the legal system of Sharia, will abrogate the fundamental right to live our lives the way we like.

Minaret derives from the Arabic word, minara, meaning lighthouse. Minarets, like light houses, are tall structures built around a mosque. They have been traditionally used for the Islamic "call to prayer", until amplifiers and speakers took over. The minarets are not essential architectural features of the places of worship for Muslims. Nothing in the Koran stipulates minarets, it seems. Why minarets, then?

Islamic minarets, Christian church spires, Buddhist stupas, and Hindu temple towers, are symbols of supremacy. Ko-il, the Tamil word for a Hindu temple, literally means the king's [ko] house [il]. As tall structures besides or atop the house of gods, they dominate the skyline and the landscape. Opulent and ornate, they command attention and proclaim the power of the gods, or their purported proxies, over the people. Not surprisingly, they were often targets of pillaging and vandalism for marauding invaders, who danced to the tune of different gods.

Loudly or not, the minarets call for submission to the authority of allah and his laws. A vote against the minarets is a vote against allah's laws. More women than men of Switzerland voted against the minarets, so as not to risk being submissive forever to the will of the men in their lives, as commanded by allah. This is not a misunderstanding of the "egalitarian" religion of Islam. It's the law in Afghanistan, for example:

Afghanistan's Shite Personal Status Law, dubbed the Marital Rape Law, legalizes withholding food from a woman who fails to have sex with her husband at least twice a week. It denies women's right to inherit, divorce, or have guardianship over her children. It forbids women to marry without permission, and legalizes forced marriage, including marriage to and rape of minors.

The Swiss women must certainly be afflicted with Islamophobia, don't you think?

An unknown percent of men and women might have voted to banish the minarets from their skyline, fearful of being stoned to death for minor sexual transgressions. Please, don't dismiss them as misinterpreting what the prophet had commanded. It's the law in Iran, for example, approved by the Ayatollahs of the Shiites:

Iran's moral police have arrested a dozen couples for engaging in illicit sexual acts, including swapping of partners, the conservative Jomhuri Eslami reported on Monday... Extra-marital sex is illegal in Iran where Islamic sharia law is the principal source of legislation. If found guilty of adultery, those arrested in the crackdown face being stoned to death.

I am shocked, shocked, that the voters of Switzerland suffer from Islamophobia!

No one would be surprised, I think, if it transpired that a super majority — 67%, 75%, even 90% — of Christian, Jews, Sikhs, and Hindu voters in Switzerland had voted for the ban on minarets, fearing their lives would amount to little and their pursuit of happiness would be disproportionately taxed under a Sharia regime. This too is not a misunderstanding of Islam, even if my country were to share with it many common principles, particularly, "principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings". In Saudi Arabia, the ultimate guardians of Islamic norms and values, apartheid rules:

In Saudi Arabia, when a person has been killed or caused to die by another, the prescribed blood money rates are as follows[7]:

* 100,000 riyals if the victim is a Muslim man
* 50,000 riyals if a Muslim woman
* 50,000 riyals if a Christian man
* 25,000 riyals if a Christian woman
* 6,666 riyals if a Hindu man
* 3,333 riyals if a Hindu woman.

The amount of compensation is based on the percentage of responsibility. Blood money is to be paid not only for murder, but also in case of unnatural death, interpreted to mean death in a fire, industrial or road accident, for instance, as long as the responsibility for it falls on the causer.[7]

Beware the fascists who are spreading a pandemic of Islamophobia across the globe!

Perhaps, a minority, or even a majority, of the refugees from the Balkans voted for not having to be reminded everyday of the Draconian laws that would brand them and their children as Muslims for eternity, and punish them by death for apostasy and blasphemy. This is not a misunderstanding of the religion of peace and tolerance, either. It's the law in several Islamic nations:

Today apostasy is punishable by death in the countries of Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan and Mauritania. In Pakistan blasphemy is also punishable by death. Other punishments prescribed by Islamic law include the annulment of marriage with a Muslim spouse, the removal of children and the loss of all property and inheritance rights.

Islamophobia, et tu, my brother?

Amidst this dismal scene unfolding in a nation renowned for its neutrality, for its progressive laws, and for its respect for privacy and individual rights, there is still something for us to laugh about. Oh, yes, I am referring to the cacophony of criticisms and protests emanating from the worst perpetrators of Islamic apartheid — Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and their apologists, topped by the United Nations Human Islamic Rights Council.

Where was Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when the Aceh province of Indonesia imposed Sharia on its Muslim and non-Muslim residents alike?

Once a hotbed of Islamic insurgency, Aceh is now turning to religion in peacetime. This month, the Indonesian province's legislative council passed a series of sharia-inspired bylaws to its criminal code, controversially bringing the Muslim-dominated northern tip of Sumatra island under some of the strictest readings of the Koran...

The new legislation pushes the fundamentalist stakes higher by allowing for stoning for crimes including adultery and corporal punishment for homosexuality, among other breaches of what the laws' proponents refer to as Muslim "ethics". One worrying aspect of the stoning for adultery provision in the new ordnance is that it allows the punishment to be doled out to both Muslims and non-Muslims

Was Ms. Pillay camping out in Mars, when just a couple of weeks before the Swiss Referendum, the parliament of the island nation of Maladives unanimously passed a bill to prohibit public display of reverence for any god other than allah?

MPs [Members of Parliament] approve bill to outlaw places of worship for non-Muslims... While the bill states that foreigners or expatriates will be allowed to worship in the privacy of their homes, involving Maldivians or encouraging them to participate will be an offence. The bill specifies a jail term of three to five years or a fine of between Rf36,000 (US$2,800) and Rf60,000 (US$4,669) for those in violation of the law.
On the outcome of the Swiss Referendum, however, the High Commissioner of Human Rights was quick and unflinching:
The United Nations said Monday it had appointed experts to examine the legality of that vote. But Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, did not await the outcome of this expertise to provide clear views. Banning minarets decided by the Swiss people is "clearly discriminatory," she said on Tuesday, adding that there was a "risk to the country at odds with its international obligations."

Make no mistake about this. I, too, have no hesitation in repudiating the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets as discriminatory, and a violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation to its people. I don't doubt for a moment that it's any less dystopian than the strictures on MF Hussain's nude paintings, Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, or the marriage of gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, the referendum sends a silent message to the high priests of religious dystopia. Listen to what it means, not what it says:

Today, we, the people, declare that we wish to be free from the tyranny of the gods and their messengers, and absolve ourselves of all allegiance to their irrational commandments and laws. Tomorrow, we would have banished all religions from the face of this earth. And then, only then, we'll be free to choose what we learn, whom we marry, how we reproduce, what we teach our children, and when we terminate our lives.

8 comments :
  1. This was a heartening step in the right direction. It was also an inspiring example of democracy at work.

    I will remain skeptical however, until the Swiss also ban construction of new Church towers, which I don't think will happen at least in my lifetime.

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  2. Mahendra:
    The minaret ban, as I have implied in the post, must be seen as symbolic, with a message to all humanity. The legalization of assisted suicide, same-sex partnerships (58-42% in 2005 referendum), and abortion (72.2 -27.8% vote) in Switzerland, an explicit ban on church spires is moot, don't you think?

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  3. At this rate, soon there will be no 'Switzerland' at all -- for why should there be a 'fatherland' or 'motherland' to which allegiance is owed? Is n't that a constraint on 'freedom' - the all pervasive principle? All these political, economic and social institutions should fade away for they regulate and constrain one's independence. 'Freedom' should be the only guiding factor in life and all attempts to abridge the same in any form whatsoever is 'sacrilegious'! Why should there be any 'norms' or 'values to abide by' for living in society? Why should there be a society at all? Is not the idea of 'cooperation' or 'give and take' an anathema when individual 'freedom' is all that matters? To 'hell' with 'majority' rule or even 'consensus' to live together. Why live together when in a state of nature, we are all 'free' and 'equal'? These institutions are all traps for the unwary and those who cling to relationships! They take away your 'freedom' -- say it once again, 'freedom' is all that matters!

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  4. Anonymous:
    "Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace... What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
    --- March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry

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  5. A little abridgment there! "Give me liberty and death to my enemies, who want to deprive me of it"! Now, wouldn't that just about summarize it better? Now, why should it take a human child so long to grow up and why does nature make it so dependent on identifiable persons -- parents or foster parents -- to nourish and bring it up to the age of maturity and independence and in the meanwhile, the child has to suffer in silence the constant supervisiom and control -- sometimes rigorous and sometimes abusive -- of its parents or foster parents? Is n't that where it all the enslavement, nay emotional blackmail, if not physical or sexual abuse, begins and then begins to take root over the years -- ultimately to perpetuate itself in the same or some other guise? For what elso is this penalty of 'deprivation of liberty' -- being comfined to what are as good as 'dungeons', otherwise called 'prisons' -- for 'minor transgressions' while others go 'scot free' for such conduct when they are in a position to 'call the shots'? Is n't all that as bad as being 'whipped' or 'stoned in public' for such 'minor transgressions' in the more 'barbaric' societies? In comparison, how civilized we all are in the western part of the world! We deserve being given the 'Nobel Peace Prize' indeed!

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  6. Both the referendum and the vote are misplaced, and unworthy of an educated and self aware society. Meanwhile, the only MSM commentator with the guts to tell it like it is seems to be Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post. She offers a non-apologetic view of the fears that have accumulated over the years in Europe about some Muslim immigrants who, while enjoying the openness and liberties of their adopted country, still want to bring about its downfall.

    But the Swiss vote can be likened to spraying air freshener over a stinking garbage can. When the synthetic smell wears off, the garbage continues to stink. More fundamental than minarets, chadors, steeples and other symbols of religion, is the question of enduring values. If indeed the Swiss value life and liberty, the vote was grossly misplaced on symbolism and needlessly used up goodwill at large. Rather than vote down minarets, the Swiss would have been better served by the Swiss People's Party if the referendum tabled had been about safeguarding civil law in the face of religious pressure. No exceptions, no ifs, ands or buts. It is illegal to commit bigamy, whether one believes in Vishnu, Mohammed or the Incredible Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is illegal to kill, whether driven by honor or otherwise. And so on. Hold tough on civil law, and then have a laissez faire attitude to the accoutrements of faith. Don't make them the issues and win meaningless battles over them. The issue should be the pervasive and growing threat that religious groups may erode the civil code of conduct, which is rooted in life and liberty, and of which you cite several exampes in your post. The Swiss have actually done this backwards. The vote should have centered on and addressed the European tendency to cave in to so-called civil rights in a legal tradition that self-consciously handles religious minorities with kid gloves.

    Europeans need to come to terms with their past ethnic sins; no amount of indulging of minorities will wipe out that history. But this indulgence will create, and has created terrible new problems. Banning minarets is displacing concern from the real issue to a symbolic one, even if the latter is a menacing foreshadowing of what is to come.

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  7. rinka,

    Ditto! I couldn't have, and didn't, put it better. Thanks.

    You wrote:
    Rather than vote down minarets, the Swiss would have been better served by the Swiss People's Party if the referendum tabled had been about safeguarding civil law in the face of religious pressure. No exceptions, no ifs, ands or buts...

    How do we ensure this?

    If you have the time and inclination, take a look at the Constitution of India. What started as a simple statement of fundamental right to equality before law - Article 14 - quickly degenerated into a mishmash of privileges and immunities for various sections of this highly heterogeneous society. Politics of envy and appeasement singlehandedly reduced its constitution to a meaningless document with countless amendments, schedules, and appendices.

    With calls for a separate Muslim Personal Law based the Sharia from irresponsible clergy and politicians, several nations of the European Union - UK, Netherlands... - have started on the Indian slippery slope. Even the United States under the current administration, I suspect, is inching towards this precipice.

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  8. The further comments on this post set me thinking again about 'nurture' and the 'acculturisation' process that we undergo when we are young. Isn't that when we learn to 'envy' and to scheme and plot against someone to get him assaulted in order to teach him a lesson? May be, as we grow older, the same tendency surfaces in the form of 'incitement' against, and impelling 'attack' on, a group.

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