Towering Hypocrisy: Times Calls Swiss Intolerant for Minaret Ban

A Swiss vote banning new construction of minarets (the prayer towers for Muslim mosques) has "undermined the country's reputation for religious tolerance." Will the Times ever tackle the lack of churches in Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina?

Nick Cumming-Bruce and Steven Erlanger reported from Geneva Monday on the surprise decision by Swiss voters to ban the construction of minarets, the prayer towers for Muslim mosques. "In Bastion of Tolerance, Swiss Reject Construction of Minarets on Mosques." The text box read: "A referendum drawn up by the far right finds wide support."

In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country's reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.

The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland's 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.

The Times criticized the referendum's "far right" supporters for playing to anti-Muslim "fears," without investigating if there are any valid reasons for such fears.

The Swiss vote reflected a growing anxiety about Islam, especially its more fundamentalist forms, in many countries of Western Europe. France, for example, has been talking about banning the full Islamic veil as a way to stop the influence of the more fundamentalist Salafist forms of Islam, popular among some of the young and also converts.

Pre-referendum polls had indicated a comfortable, if slowly shrinking, majority against the proposal, after a controversial campaign that played aggressively on the same fears of Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values that resonate in other parts of Europe.


Campaign posters depicting a Swiss flag sprouting black, missile-shaped minarets alongside a woman shrouded in a niqab, a head-to-toe veil that shows only the eyes, starkly illustrated the determination of the right to play on deep-rooted fears that Muslim immigration would lead to an erosion of Swiss values.

In a recent televised debate, Ulrich Schlüer, a member of Parliament from the S.V.P., said minarets were a symbol of "the political will to take power" and establish Shariah, or religious law.

He also claimed that Switzerland already suffered from thousands of forced marriages.

The Times didn't investigate the claim or any other, simply assuming intolerance.

A Tuesday editorial boiled down the paper's conventional wisdom: "A Vote for Intolerance" called the vote "disgraceful" and "a bigoted and mean-spirited measure."

Nick Cumming-Bruce even followed up Tuesday, with "Swiss Ban on Minaret Building Criticized."

Switzerland's political leaders faced a chorus of criticism at home and abroad on Monday over a ban on the construction of minarets that passed overwhelmingly by referendum on Sunday....The government and most Swiss political parties had opposed the motion, he noted, attributing the size of the majority in favor of the ban to the right-wing parties' campaign, which played on popular fears and misconceptions.

U.S. right-leaning media aren't unanimous on the issue (the Wall Street Journal, while understanding the concerns of the Swiss, editorialized against the move). Yet the Times' horrified coverage highlights a historical double standard.

While Christian European countries have mosques (there's a large one in Rome, the heart of Roman Catholicism), there are no churches in the Islamic holy cities of Mecca or Medina. The Times hasn't devoted much worry over that particular disparity, indicating that it sees religious tolerance as a one-way street, something only Western Christians are required to show.