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Tag Archives: Neutrality

It’s safe to say that in the last 10 years the world has rapidly become a much, much smaller place. People will accept that. Technology, travel and migration have brought most of this about. But what the last 10 years have also done is set everything prior to the technological revolution of the 2000’s in stone. There is little, to no evidence left of any existing Western thinking preceding 1999. Interestingly, people are less willing to accept that. Many respecters of Europe’s traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values insist they have not expired but are a perpetuum. This is even in the midst of a multi-religious society which loudly declares the values of ‘variety’ to be the dominant thinking of this age. In an age where the atheist, the agnostic and the skeptic are unwilling spectators to various explosive declarations of faith and religion, where is the ‘normal’ ground in Europe anymore?

Acknowledging the past is one thing. Declaring that your past as present is quite another. In this case, you’ve got to hand it to the French. As they bounded forward into the 21st century as a fully secular society, many Christians have protested that France’s zero-tolerance on all religion is an outrageous betrayal of it’s Christian roots. This is not necessarily so. The French have done what few Western countries can boast: create a society where the law makes favour and exception to no other belief system, in the interests of enforcing blanket equality and a standard of normalcy for all. In turn what this has done is to largely drive all religious belief systems underground; Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Christian and all. Sociologists have observed in many societies that once a thought system is driven out of public view and underground, rather than disperse, the participating community take on a covert existence. As a result, the religion that is found in France is increasingly less inactive and non-participant. This is one possible commonality which covert French Muslims, Christians and Jews share over their other European counterparts.

By strange paradox, this has kept France’s reverence for the Christian thinking of the previous age, intact and personal. In a nation which does not enforce religious thought (as did the Edwardians and Victorians), people are more inclined to choose their beliefs based on personal conviction. A belief system becomes more tangible when it costs something; those who practice a religion or faith in France now, do so as more of a sacrifice and at their own risk.  As a result the French Christian church of today, are possibly far more passionate about their faith than those of the pre-secular age. Considering that Biblical teaching discourages against apathy and indifference, France have actually done their religious history a favour by offering it a second wind, a second chance to be everything it could never be. One could even argue that this kind of church would identify far closer with the ‘true’ church of Jesus’ day. Rather than declare their historical Judeo-Christian values a perpetuum, by driving the church underground the French have kept it alive. Equally so, all other faiths and religions have benefitted from this rule also. In a surprising counter-balance, it would seem that France have covered all the angles in a way that Britain and America have struggled to.

For the rest who choose not to participate in any such religion or faith, the peace is theirs to know that French law prohibits displays of extremism in the best interests of neutrality. And therein lies the formula; to have the freedom to believe anything one wishes to, anything within the law; for the law is the final word for every man, woman and child. If it’s democracy people are looking for, isn’t this an even pathway to some kind of normalcy in Europe?

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.