As you might have heard, the citizens of Switzerland have just passed a constitutional amendment banning the construction of minarets in their country. In light of the lopsided margin by which the amendment passed (57% voted in favor it), there can be little doubt that it represents the opinion of the majority of Swiss adults in a clearly "democratic" manner; furthermore, it is clear that out of all the world's major religions, Islam presents unique difficulties for any state which wishes to retain the values of enlightenment liberalism and openness: as such, the decision of the Swiss public cannot simply be dismissed out of hand as an act of knee-jerk reaction. And yet, just having said all of the preceding, I cannot allow any doubt to remain on one point, which is that I consider this Swiss resolution to be a colossal act of foolishness.
The essence of the problem, as I see it, is simple. The root of the problem the Swiss electorate has with Islam is the illiberal tendencies which the religion tends to foster in its adherents, and yet the Swiss reaction has been to pass legislation which is in itself highly illiberal, fit for a place like Saudi Arabia perhaps, but certainly not for a supposedly modern, free European state. Furthermore, this new law is not only highly illiberal but also utterly ineffective, targeting as it does a mere symbol even as it fails to touch upon the real issue, which is a concern of what occupies the hearts and minds of Switzerland's muslim residents; no, even worse, this ban not only fails to do anything to make Swiss muslims more amenable to liberal norms, but by denying them a right questioned for no other religious community, the law virtually urges Swiss muslims to outright rejection of the Swiss state and its non-muslim citizens, legitimizing an attitude of victimhood while providing recruiting fodder for extremists.
I suppose it is only a matter of time now before the inevitable violent protests and fatwas urging believers to murder begin to issue forth from the Islamic world, but if this were the limit of the likely fallout, I wouldn't think it worthwhile to say anything: the world cannot be held hostage to the temper tantrums of any collection of religious lunatics. Of much greater concern to me is what this all harbingers for other unpopular minorities in the future. If, say, Israel decides to retaliate against some Hezbollah provocation in the future, leading to a boiling over of the latent anti-semitism which masquerades as "anti-Zionism", will the Swiss or some other European country decide to ban the erection of synagogues? What about any number of political movements or ethnic groupings a majority of the Swiss happen not to like? Do the Swiss plan to render their constitution into a patchwork of rights with opt-outs and exclusions for each and every such group?
The Swiss minaret ban is, to my mind, a clear-cut illustration of the stupid consequences to which direct democracy can lead, especially when untempered by structures such as the American supreme court (or Britain's House of Lords before Tony Blair neutered it for short-term political advantage). Fortunately, in this particular case, it seems that the European Court of Human Rights will yet save the Swiss from themselves. If the Swiss have such a problem with creeping Sharia, there are more effective ways of dealing with it than passing alienating legislation of no more than symbolic value: for instance, they could clamp down on further immigration from the Islamic world (excluding immigrants and refugees on religious grounds is something the Swiss have had no problem with in the not-so distant past.)
PS: As a libertarian, let me also point out that there is yet another reason to regard this law as dangerous and stupid, which is that it constitutes a serious abridgment of the rights of individuals to dispose of their property as they please, including building structures on their land which others might not like the look of. Granted, this is a right which is not currently taken fully seriously in pretty much any part of the world (not even in the United States), but banning the construction of one particular type of structure on any part of a country is of a whole different order of wrongdoing than some local authority dictating how high and what color private residences can be.