Swiss Referendum Bans Minarets

The ban passed with 57% voting in favor.

This is not good news because it is basically a triumph of right-wing demagoguery.

That being said, there are more issues involved than simply bigotry and Islam.

The elites in much of the developed world have decided that a tight labor market, one which would have factory workers and street sweepers paid more than they currently get, and bankers and factory owners paid less than they currently get, is a good thing. This means that cheap labor economics drives much of immigration.

It’s not surprising that people who are in the bottom 90% income in a society would oppose this. This is a zero sum game, and by driving wages down, they lose.

Additionally, high immigration every country raises questions about societal norms, and these issues have been studiously avoided.

It’s no one else’s business how one prays, but in terms of how one should behave in public in society, there is a legitimate question of to what degree immigrants should be expected to assimilate in their public behavior.

Both of these are significant questions, and they played vote total into the Swiss minaret ban.

Let’s be clear though, there needs to be perspective in determining the bounds of society, and I think that actions like banning the minaret and hijab (head scarf) are nuts, but by the same token, I think that the cloistering of women through the Burqa, Abaya, and Niqāb (which cover the whole face except the eyes) may very well be over the line?

And then there is the modern chador, which covers the body, but leaves the face exposed…It gets confusing.

The bigots would offer is that some Islamic nations require women to wear head scarves even if they are not Moslem, so it’s reasonable for western nations to require that all women not wear head scarves, but when you are holding up Saudi Arabia as an example, you’ve lost the moral high ground.

That being said, my guess is that the most significant motivation for a yes vote was simple bigotry, and there is no simple solution, at least in the short term, because you can not change the hearts of adult bigots.

The best you can hope for is to educate their children to be less bigoted.

What can be done in the shorter term is to address issues related to “race to the bottom” cheap labor policies, and publicly discuss and address concerns participation of immigrants in public society.

If you do acknowledge that there are some issues about immigration and assimilation that are unrelated to bigotry, you will likely peel off enough of the “Yes” votes for referenda like this to fail.

Unfortunately, there is not currently an honest dialog on these issues.


  1. Sortition says:

    Very astute. Both the content and the tone here are extremely thoughtful, IMHO.

    Going back to our exchange about the WP op-ed column competition stunt – this kind of piece is very hard to find anywhere in the mainstream media. The idea that economics and ideology somehow work together, for example, is just to absurd (or too complex) to appear in the WP, NYT, etc. I don't think even Krugman – the high watermark in mainstream punditry – would be able to quite put it like you did.

  2. Matthew G. Saroff says:

    You are comparing me to Krugman?  I'm flattered.

    I think that Krugman tends to stay away from sociology and anthropology, while I tend to dive in.

    It comes from my family.  My father is a "new school" city planner, who views the city planning process as a social one, as opposed to "old school" city planner, interestingly enough including 911 bomber Mohammed Atta, who see city planning as mega-architecture.

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