Over this past weekend, I found myself engaged in a rather interesting conversation of sorts, with a rather internationally misinformed young lady. Amid the babbling, it did begin to occur to me that this person couldn’t possibly have known who she was talking to; for my own comic relief, I opted for relatively monotone observation and obtained amusing results. After listening to a lengthy but factually unsupported complaint against the American government, she haughtily declared that it would be far more profitable to live in a neutral state. “Like Switzerland?” I offered. “They’ve chosen neutrality for years, but I won’t profess to know too much about Swiss politics, they keep themselves relatively quiet.” And no sooner had the bait been set, did the blind mouse pounce eagerly to take it. Immediately after this final exhortation, I excused myself and left her to ponder the hanging silence over the last of her factually devoid remarks, “Well, pfft! What sort of politics could Switzerland possibly have?!”
The Swiss model of classical, pure democracy has been a pioneer on the world stage for over two centuries. Succeeding at having not been in a state of war for a remarkable 194 years, their neutrality has both baffled critics and drawn admiration over the ages. It’s no wonder that the Swiss have long been considered an enigma to outsiders and observers. In the age of modernity and adaptation, Switzerland joins Denmark as some of the most forward-thinking innovators in Europe. Deriving functionality from the Germans and strong opinion from the French, Switzerland has repeatedly sought and maintained incredible consistency in politically empowering it’s people. One would argue that this is a key catalyst in the domino effect on the Swiss economy, foreign relations, position on energy resources and state religion. Rarely do we hear them wrapped in controversy in the news, so it was fresh surprise to hear this week of a constitutional Swiss ban on the building of minarets. In recognition of what has been described as “political Islam” and “not against the practice of Islam as a religion”, Swiss citizens have backed the ban in an overwhelming agreement against “Islamisation” of Switzerland. This has inevitably caused quite a stir with liberal neighbours France, despite the country’s recent referendum to discuss a ban on wearing hijabs and burqas. It has also evoked commentary from Britain, who also faces similar issues.
What makes this particularly interesting is that, this opens up the question of whether the archetypal Swiss neutrality is still as purist as it’s prototype and whether or not the Swiss have now opened themselves up to advocating a “brand” of neutrality in today’s 21st Century. To explore this further requires understanding the motivation behind such a decision. The decision against “political Islam” arises in favour of serving to protect that prototype neutrality, to prevent the emergence of a society with political turmoil, as examples of such consequences have been shown in European nations allowing Islamic extremism a place in politics. One argument would decry that this is simply a case of splitting hairs, that such opposition against an Islamic practice in Switzerland defeats their cherished image of tolerance. There is the viewpoint that if this is about the issue of one kind of faith influencing the decisions made in a currently stable, harmonious society, should not all faiths in Switzerland be brought into question? One might ask, where, exactly, is the neutrality in declaring a ban on “political Islam”? This is an important argument. A warning has since been issued by the UN Human Rights Committee that this decision “violates international law”. Certain British Muslim spokespersons have been quick to label the predominantly Christian nation as creating “anti-Muslim sentiment”. This is hardly fair trial to the Swiss, considering their advocacy of Islam as a choice of religion. However, when discussing human rights violations, it would be a gross negligence to overlook Europe’s connection to a resourceful nation like Saudi Arabia, who have openly banned the building of Christian churches on Saudi Arabian soil. It is a naïve mind which says that world politics is about fairness; in practice, world politics is never about fairness. It is about concordance.
Despite appearances, the argument is less about human rights violations than the sensationalist reporting would have you believe. The Swiss have very clearly, laid out the finite specifics of their objections: there is nothing else to be added or deduced from that, until so declared by the Swiss themselves. As British “moderate Muslims” have very publicly declared in the past, Islamic extremism is something they ‘do not identify with’ and something which ‘should be stamped out’. The citizens of Switzerland concur that this move is what is right for their country, their values, their politics, their culture. Rather than seeing this decision as something it specifically declares it is not, it would be far wiser to recognize this as democracy at it’s best; a united effort to retain the neutrality that Switzerland proudly defends against all odds. “What sort of politics could Switzerland possibly have?” A remarkably balanced, effective one, which tackles difficult issues like these with a fine pointed blade.