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Towers of Silence
January/February 2010

Symbol of masculine power? The mosque in Wangen, Switzerland 

The widespread outrage at the result of the Swiss referendum on banning new minarets is misdirected. Like the man in the old joke who was looking for his lost keys where the pavement was best lit and not where he had dropped them, international public opinion directs its condemnation not where it is due but where it feels safe. 

The obvious scapegoat is the purported Swiss right-wing extremism and "Islamophobia". Those who voted against more minarets are pictured as xenophobic, intolerant or, at best, ignorant. It is uncomfortable to consider their motives and possibly arrive at the conclusion that they are not all that sinister. In the context of this witch-hunt it is sobering to present the arguments of a Swiss feminist, Julia Onken. It was her last-minute email campaign that helped to swing the vote in favour of the ban. 

Onken, the author of best-selling psychology books, is not your typical flag-waving nationalist, yet she chose to support the anti-minaret campaign. While her assertion that "the minarets are masculine symbols of power" was widely ridiculed by the Swiss and international press, the concerns underlying it are serious. Her principal concern is the patriarchal nature of shariah, which makes Swiss Muslim women second-rate citizens in their own country. For Onken, minarets are a symbol of the state's acquiescence in the barbaric practices to which some Muslim women are still subjected, such as honour killings, forced marriage or domestic confinement. As long as these stand, minarets should not.

But why strike at the minarets? Onken's answer is: because we cannot strike at anything else. Paradoxically, the liberal discourse of the open society has become so dominant that it stifles all dissenting views. It has become impossible, she believes, to speak up about encroaching patriarchy and the oppression of Muslim women without being branded as a xenophobe. 

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March 4th, 2010
11:03 PM
"honour killings, forced marriage or domestic confinement" are not problems caused by Islam, but by non-Islamic cultural values some people from Muslim countries may hold. It has nothing to do with Islam. Banning minarets and Islam bashing is the last exceptable form of racism left in Europe and rather than seeking to resolve minority issues the Swiss have gone back to dark times when fascism was rampant in Europe. Now that minarets have been banned, who's next?

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