Religious intolerance: it's not just for breakfast anymore

The recent Swiss ban on the construction of new minarets is a very regrettable event, and the only Swiss voter I personally know is furious about it. It's a good example of how socially destructive even apparently benign regulations like building permits can be: now it's a huge political issue when someone wants to build a twenty-foot tall pile of cinder blocks. This is clearly antithetical to a free society, and symptomatic of a larger problem in the European response to Islam. These insular communities are not going to adapt when they're being persecuted.

The Christian Science Monitor's feathers are not ruffled. In a response, it notes religious intolerance of the reverse variety:

Saudi Arabia, home of Mecca and Islam more generally, is one of the least religiously free nation’s on earth. In the Kingdom, the public practice of any faith but Islam is illegal. Christian’s and Jews receive 50 percent of the compensation that a Muslim would receive in personal injury court and the country has no churches at all, though it officially tolerates private worship in homes.

None of this, of course, excuses the Swiss yes-voters from illiberal and immoral behavior. But it's something to keep in mind.

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Saudi Arabia: an example to us all!

Seen a surprising amount of support for this move from self-identified libertarians in other places. Gah.

Apparently the Swiss voting majority are so concerned that their Muslim neighbours are undermining Western values, that it is necessary to get in first and start importing the ones that have served the Middle East so well.

Is there anybody who doesn't know that Saudi Arabia is to good governance pretty much what it is to beer festivals? And what the blazes is going through the Monitor guys' minds, that makes them think holding one's fellow-citizens hostage against the non-existent good behaviour of a bunch of foreign governments is a reasonable idea? All sorts of lovely possibilities elsewhere, once we start admitting that as a precedent!

Did I mention: gah?

Worth checking out what the

Worth checking out what the Swiss have to say. One Swiss says:

I am Swiss so perhaps I can answer a few questions. The ban is not about the noise generated by the call to prayer. In fact, the call to prayer is already banned.

The issue for many people who voted in favor of the ban is the violence associated to Islam. It is important to understand that this is not about favoring Christianity, but it is in fact targeted specifically at Islam.

Few people in Switzerland believe all Muslims are terrorists. Those who voted for the ban know it too. The main problem Swiss people have with Islam is the fact that Islam is disorganized: Peaceful Muslims and extremists identify themselves to the same group and attend the same Mosques.

Simply put, the problem of extremism is corrupting Islam from the inside, and Islam has to tackle it somehow.

Unfortunately, it seems to the majority of non-Muslims that Islam is ignoring the problem and is denying it’s responsibility to face it by saying “These Muslims do not practice Islam the right way, they have nothing to do with us”.

Last night, I read about the attempted decapitation of the Canadian Prime Minister and killing many more people with bombs in 2006 by Islamic terrorists. What struck me was the fact that 12% of Muslims in Canada at the time reported they felt the attacks were justified. The media passed this as a small number, when in fact this meant 84000 people in Canada supported the attack.

The Swiss people do not want this. They do not want thousands of extremists feeling at home in Switzerland. Banning the minarets was mostly a message sent to Islam saying “We’re not kicking you out, but we are not ready to accept you completely right now. Please take care of the problems in your religion”.

I am very confident that the Swiss people would reverse their decisions in several years if Islam kicks extremists out of it’s ranks somehow (perhaps Islam should look at Protestants when they separated from the Catholic Church because of major disagreements). If the problem was just xenophobia, then other religions would had been targeted, and only Christian religions would had been spared.

Another problem is the minarets themselves: Extremists see them as a symbol of conquest. Some people in Switzerland feared minarets would make extremists feel comfortable in Switzerland, leading them to actively promote violence (such as the infamous protests in the U.K. where Muslim extremist protesters held signs saying “Death to infidels”).

Another fear was that if minarets became more numerous, extremists may consider Switzerland as a territory conquered by Islam, and may attempt to reclaim it by acts of violence. I don’t think anybody feared an open war, but it’s reasonable one or two bombings could occur.

Lastly, the reason why Muslims wanted minarets (4 are already built in the country) was bothering people. Minarets are not mandatory according to the Qur’an. In fact, the very first minaret was built several centuries (I think I read 1000 years) after the creation of Islam, and minarets were only built when they were necessary to call people for prayer. When other means of calling people were available, minarets were not built. Perhaps minarets have become part of a tradition, but a mosque without a minaret is not breaking the rules of Islam. So if minarets are supposed to be built only to call people for prayer, and doing so is forbidden by the law in Switzerland because of the inconvenience of the noise, then why do some Mosques build them anyway? Swiss people probably feared Muslims were planning to push for laws benefiting their religion, such as a law allowing calling for prayer.

So here are the main reasons why most of the people voted to ban minarets did so. Using racism as an explanation is just too easy.

I would like to finish with this: Religion and personal beliefs are two different things. Personal beliefs are what people believe in. Religion is an organization to which people of similar beliefs belong. Banning minarets puts a stop to religion, but it does not put a stop to beliefs. People in Switzerland are still free to be Muslim, and they are not persecuted for being Muslim. They are free to keep their beliefs. However, their religion has been put a limit.

I would also like to say that while I think personal beliefs should be respected, it should be possible to openly criticize religions. Religions tell people what to think and how to live. They promote themselves to the public by building symbolic buildings, or by advertising. Therefore, they should be open to criticism.

Racism is wrong, because race does not make people good or bad. Religion however is an ideology, a lifestyle, a set of values… This is precisely what makes humans good or bad. Religions influence the world. In politics, many people are religiously motivated when voting. In everyday life, some people commit violence for religious motivations. It is very fair to criticize religions. It is unfair for religions to ask us to tolerate them because they are religions.

If it is fair to criticize political parties or how people vote, then I don’t see why a religion and the values and lifestyle it promotes can not be criticized.

Kopel at Volokh has a more concise version of the above:

A commenter asks for what the arguments were in favor of the ban. According to the website of the initiative’s proponents, the argument was that minarets are intended as a symbol of Muslim superiority, particularly of superiority to any different religious/political system, and accordingly a vote against minarets is a vote against creeping shariaism. As the Wall Street Journal noted, the initiative is not a particularly effective tool for accomplishing its proponents’ objectives, but perhaps the Swiss majority decided that it was the only tool available to send a message to the political establishment.

This appears to confirm that the previous quote is more than just the idiosyncratic opinion of a single Swiss whose comment I happened to run across.

Thanks for the links - this

Thanks for the links - this is pretty much the sort of thing I've been hearing to date. I'm not saying I don't understand the emotion behind it, but I sure don't understand the reason.

Take this marvellous piece of unreason (subsp. apples-and-oranges) from your first correspondent:

I am very confident that the Swiss people would reverse their decisions in several years if Islam kicks extremists out of it’s ranks somehow (perhaps Islam should look at Protestants when they separated from the Catholic Church because of major disagreements

Islam has different denominations. Some of them dislike the extremists very much indeed - and vice murderously versa. You can no more kick somebody out of 'Islam' than you can kick somebody out of 'Christianity'. Perhaps the moderates could try to outshout the extremists in declaring the other side apostates, but - being moderates - shouting is going to be pretty much their limit, and it will not be their nature to have a comparative advantage at it, either.

Then there are these other niggling questions, like "What useful effect can this have when minarets need, and are almost never given, local permission anyway?" and "Where in Christian doctrine does it talk about the need to build socking great dominating steeples?" It would be idle to multiply examples.

Like I say, I get the fear. What I don't get is the call to abandon one's position in panic at first sight of a shadow. I expect this sort of thing more in places with disarmed populations and servile traditions, but Switzerland?

I wonder if long years of Magic Formula government, and creeping encirclement by the EU (and lately, in another sense, the US) mightn't have left a lot of Swiss people feeling far less autonomous and secure than their foreign reputation would suggest.

1st Amendment rights

I must constantly remind myself that most of the world – including Western Europe and Canada – do not enjoy First Amendment rights against their government.

The discretion to build and maintain a minaret is a form a speech. Of course we should defend a person's discretion to engage in that speech, absent some overriding legitimate governmental interest.

Ironically, I sense that the ban on minarets is also a form of speech. The ban is not practical – as note above, local zoning laws created a practical ban already – but rather a symbolic way of expressing ... well, expressing something. Rejection of Islam? Rejection of violence? Defensive affirmation of traditional Swiss lifestyles? Support for the rise of a conservative/nationalistic political party over more liberal parties? Frustration with the economy? The message is vague, but the vote looks pretty symbolic to me.

Of course, we control symbolic speech in the US, too. If I burn a tire on your front lawn I will be subjected to vastly different sanctions than if I burn a cross. Why the difference? Unlike tire-burning, cross-burning is a form of speech. Some say that we punish the practice because it conveys an implied threat of violence. Others will concede that cross-burnings no longer convey an implied threat, but we continue to say otherwise because we want to have an excuse to punish unpopular speech. Take your pick.

Does minaret construction represent a form of speech? Sure, much like steeple construction does. Does it represent an implied threat of violence? That’s a stretch.

Really, the only appropriate response to this is gah. I don’t often use that kind of language, but I think in this instance it's entirely justified – and I’m frankly a little disappointed that so few people have been willing to stand up and say it.

Collectivist punishment

As a means to influence the behavior of criminal/militant Muslims, the Swiss will restrict the rights of ALL Muslims (and, for that matter, the rights of non-Muslims) to build minarets. Can a brotha get an AMEN for collectivist punishment?

Two thoughts:

1. As a means to control the criminal use of nuclear weapons, the US government prohibits ALL private ownership of nuclear weapons. Arguably such laws reflect a kind of collectivist punishment, restricting the rights of everyone in order to control the wrongful acts of a few. I sense the justification for such laws rests in a kind of balancing analysis: The benefit private people derive from owning nuclear weapons is small, the harm that might result from criminal/militant use of nuclear weapons is large, and post hoc remedies for those harms are likely to be inadequate.

Admittedly, this type of analysis requires government to attempt to compare intersubjective utility, a practice widely disparaged on this blog and elsewhere. On what basis does government presume to say that the utility I would derive from private ownership of a nuclear weapon is outweighed by other considerations? Perhaps I’m one of those guys from the final Planet of the Apes movie that worships a nuclear weapon, and the utility I would derive would be incalculably large, yadda yadda.

For better or worse, people seem to accept this type of limitation on their freedoms and not even Ron Paul tries to make an issue of it.

2. Collectivist punishment is often a tool in the fight against insurgencies. In the effort to control shoe bombers, the US makes everyone remove their shoes before boarding an airplane. In an effort to control feared insurgency by Japanese Americans in WWII, the US put them into internment camps. In the effort to control rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel clamps down on Palestinians generally. In the effort to control Harry Potter, Umbrage clamped down on all student groups as Hogwarts. Arguably, war is a form of collectivist punishment.

Ugly, ugly, ugly, but pretty much any fight against insurgencies is ugly, ugly, ugly. Whether you think the tactic is warranted is largely influenced by the magnitude of the threat you perceive from the insurgents.


For better or worse, people seem to accept this type of limitation on their freedoms and not even Ron Paul tries to make an issue of it.

...I don't accept it! I just find the cost to acquire an entry level nuclear device beyond my means at the moment.

In liberty,
Sv. S.Elmo


Didn't you get the Walmart circular in your Thanksgiving Day newspaper? They were giving Black Friday a whole new meaning....


That's why I have a Costco membership, you cant have just one. Besides, Walmart products tend to be on the cheap side, I would hate to return my warhead because of a faulty containment chamber...

Seriously I would own one. The price to entry on the black market is atrocious, if this planet was truly free and not run by kleptocracies I could actually afford such tools. I can imagine never having to pay another power bill again because of my desktop fission reactor.

The fear of nuclear power and its weaponized form stems from the government being the only ones to wield the big stick. Deep down inside the people know the government will use it. Government always wields its power, most times destructively.

In liberty,
Sv. S.Elmo

Affirmative social duty

While people generally recoil at the idea of collectivist punishment, I often here intimations of the following argument: Measures targeting all Muslims are justified because all Muslims are guilty; radical Muslims fail in their social obligations by engaging in terrorism, while moderate Muslims fail in their social obligations to control or condemn their more radical brethren.

Do we have a social obligation to condemn wrongful behavior – especially behavior by those who are perceived as our allies? I reflexively resist arguments that private citizens have some kind of social obligations that are not shared generally. I am not my brother’s keeper. If society wants to see my brother’s antisocial behavior controlled, then society should bear the cost. I recognize a duty to contribute to the maintenance of society – paying taxes, etc. – but not a duty to provide personal services that are not required of other citizens. In short, no, moderate Muslims have no duty to say boo about their radical brethren.

On the other hand, other schools of libertarianism – and especially anti-tax schools – argue that if we want to reduce the role of the state then private actors must take up the slack. If we want to avoid the cost of formal control mechanisms for antisocial behavior, we’ll need to incur the cost of informal mechanisms. In short, people who love autonomy have an affirmative ethical duty to condemn behavior that intrudes upon the autonomy of others.

As I say, I tend to favor Checkbook Libertarianism: While I have a number of negative social duties, my sole affirmative duty to the common good is writing checks. But I continue to reflect on these other schools....

Moderates are culpable

'...while moderate Muslims fail in their social obligations to control or condemn their more radical brethren. "

It's not mere passive failure. "Moderate" Muslims spread a religion that calls for the subjugation and persecution of non-Muslims, and say that such calls are made by an infallible diety in an infallible book. They are actively responsible for those who act on their incitements to violence.

Let's not be confused by

Let's not be confused by words, however. Islam is a religion but each religion is distinct, and part of Islam's distinctness is that it is strongly political, even among moderate Muslims. In this Islam resembles communism or Nazism more closely than it does Christianity.

When we bombed Germany and bombed Japan, no one thought we were at war with Christianity or with Shinto. People thought we were at war with political entities and with their ideologies.

But when we responded to the 9/11 attacks, Muslims worldwide interpreted this as going to war against Islam. See for example this poll. And it is perfectly clear why Muslims think this: our actions are capable of threatening Islam because our actions have political consequences, and Islam has political aspirations. In contrast, bombing the hell out of Nazi Germany did not threaten Christianity, even though churches were destroyed, because Christianity did not have political aspirations.

A large fraction, probably a majority of Muslims want Islam to be imposed politically:

More than half believed al Qaeda's goals included achieving a strict application of Sharia law in every Islamic country, with more than 70 percent agreeing with that aim.

In contrast, a typical Christian would be hard put even to describe what a comprehensive Christian legal system might look like. Christianity has no equivalent of Sharia. Thus Europe has made heavy use of non-Christian legal traditions, such as Roman law and Anglo-Saxon law. We atheists who live among Christians tend to model our general view of what sort of thing religion is on Christianity as it exists today, emphasizing as it does that one renders unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and that Jesus's kingdom is not of this world. Similarly, the Jews, who if we are to believe the Old Testament were at first a politically aggressive, even genocidal religion not unlike Islam, have long since managed to castrate their own god. Now that the Isrealis are surrounded by a sea of humanity which for religious reasons wants to kill them all, the Jews - at least the ones who live in Israel - are growing new testicles, though their new political aspirations have a decidedly secular flavor.

Today, many Muslims that we meet appear to be similar to Christians in their seeming lack of political aspirations. However, this country is a majority Christian country and the Christians have not imposed a theocracy. To predict what would likely happen in a majority Muslim country, look at actual majority Muslim countries. Turkey appears to be a rare exception, and that exception may be due to factors other than a lack of political aspirations among Muslims, and it is apparently in the process of ceasing to be an exception.

I propose, therefore, that in thinking about Islam, it be thought of as a political ideology, or if you prefer, a family of closely related political ideologies, much like communism, which is also a family of closely related political ideologies. This does not change the judgment on the minarets. However, it does clarify the picture: imagine a rising Nazi movement which has taken over more of the world than Hitler dreamed, and whose adherents begin erecting enormous swastikas all over towns and cities of the US, so that one is no longer able to look at a New York or San Francisco skyline without encountering a field of giant swastikas looming over the familiar skyline.

This does not change the conclusion. It only clarifies the picture. If you see these minarets and see something-like-a-church-steeple, then you're failing to capture the political aspirations of Islam, which the Swiss are well aware of. If you see these minarets and see something-like-a-giant-swastika, then you are seeing the political dimension, and you're not letting yourself be lulled by the language.

Give a man a hammer...

Give a man a hammer, he will treat everything as a nail.

When the government pays for muslim fanatics to spew their hatred in university, and the mass media promote dhimmitude, and all the citizen has to fight back is a ballot, he'll use his ballot.

In a truly free country, the would be politician and jihad apologists would be running for their lives. In Switzerland, they can continue to raise taxes and spread genocidal hatred, they just can't be too brazen about it.

...and all the citizen has

...and all the citizen has to fight back is a ballot, he'll use his ballot.

Unfortunately his ballot does nothing but simply reaffirm his pointless position within the gerrymandered satrapies of modern political geography.

In liberty,
Sv. S.Elmo

"None of this, of course,

"None of this, of course, excuses the Swiss yes-voters from illiberal and immoral behavior."

Yep. What's "moral" is for the Swiss just to surrender!


They surrendered to their fear of Islam, as seen by their vote. This vote will do nothing to stem the tide of muslim immigrants taking up residence in their country.

Whatsamatta? afraid of brown people with different views becoming your neighbors too?

In liberty,
Sv. S.Elmo

Why a minaret is not like a swastika

If it were like any political symbol, you would be far closer with the hammer and sickle - another emblem for which, to be sure, I have no love at all.

The one thing Islam is definitely not like, is a coherent political movement with clear lines of command leading up to a dominating Fuehrer. We did not, and could not, get groups called things like 'Nazis for Pluralist Democracy', existing solely to oppose Little Adolf and anybody else who wanted to fill his jackboots.

The fantastically fissiparous nature of communism makes it look like a better fit, I'll grant you. Then again, non-political Islam and anti-political Islam rather noticeably exist, whereas the Communist equivalent is mortal difficult to find. But...

There are voluntary communists, who consider any mingling of state authority with communal association to represent the ultimate corruption of both. They will spread by good example alone, or fail honestly but deservedly in the attempt to set one. There are Muslims who take a similar, and as I understand it quite a religiously orthodox, stand. I have met significantly more of them than of their communist counterparts.

I don't think communists of this decent kind are very fond of the hammer and sickle. Do anti-theocratic Muslims feel the same about minarets, or do they just think of them as most Christians think of steeples? My impression is the latter, though I lack definite data.

In the course of not surrendering liberal values, not surrendering the fight for the minds of the Muslim neighbourhood might be one good place to start.