Saturday, December 19, 2009

Of Minarets and Massacres

Of Minarets and Massacres 1

An Armenian woman mourns a child during the deportation of Armenians from Turkey circa 1915.

The surprise Swiss vote last month to ban new minarets triggered the expected gnashing of teeth from those who believe Islam, the least tolerant of faiths when administered by autocrats and absolute monarchs, should not only be tolerated, but encouraged.

"It is an expression of intolerance, and I detest intolerance," commented French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. "I hope the Swiss will reverse this decision quickly." Commenters expressed similar thoughts on blogs—"Deeply ashamed to be Swiss," wrote Stephanie of Zurich—while voices sympathetic to the vote also quickly flooded the blogosphere. "Google 'Archdiocese of Mecca,'" one poster from Arizona acidly suggested.

Forgive me if I, too, do not weep that 57.5 percent of the Swiss, now hosts to a largely moderate Muslim population of Turks and former Yugoslavs, want to keep their country a quiet car among nations. I am still busy weeping for the Armenians, the first people in their corner of the world to officially adopt Christianity, almost eliminated from history due to regular massacres by the Muslim Turks among whom they lived for centuries.

Is bringing in the Armenian genocide too big a stretch when contemplating an electoral act about urban design rather than a state policy to implement ethnic cleansing? After all, the ban doesn't involve violence (so far), or suppression of religious worship (mosques remain OK). What is the appropriate context when reflecting on such a ban?

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