Minarets and Slender Arguments

If it did nothing else, Switzerland’s vote to ban the building of minarets drew attention to Europe’s identity crisis. The Swiss – like the French, or the Germans, or the British for that matter – are clearly worried about the Muslims living among them.

The Swiss vote (which may end up getting knocked down by the European Court of Human Rights) has succeeded in shifting the focus away from the social and economic problems of immigration and toward religion. To put the full weight of Europe’s cultural identity crisis on a slender spire of traditional architecture meant risking a dangerous debate, which has now erupted, and not only in Switzerland.

Previous debates about the role of Islam in Europe involved issues other than religion. The 2004 French ban on head scarves in schools was about the submission of women; the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad was about free speech.

A minaret, by contrast, is no more and no less than a symbol. Other religious symbols draw protest – a nativity scene in front of City Hall, say, or a cross on a mountaintop – but they, unlike the minaret, are not part of a house of worship.

Continue reading in New York Times blog


  1. Tarek says:

    Dear Hildegarde,
    Good question, and here what I personally think about it:
    Symbols are spontaneous manifestations of the “Collective” unconscious. I don’t know if the products of the Personal unconscious can be called symbols or serve as collective symbols unless they are based on a deeper collective archetype..
    Symbols can differ with time, yesterday’s symbols lose their statue as symbols when the conscious stop being affected by the energy that they presented (but the active archetype will then use a new symbol to communicate with the conscious, like in dreams Today the car may take the role of old times horses). Symbols can differ (though slightly) according to the perceiving conscious mind, I said “slightly” because human conscious is a very new development and it did not differ much between different groups (we can see very similar redeemer or messiah character in almost all cultures) so as Joseph Campbell said it A Hero with a thousand faces.

  2. Alexandra says:

    I dare say religion is seen by the way the worshipers behave, live the religion. If many of them are behaving in a strange way, or that cases are highlighted some will start to fear such symbols. And maybe that symbols are really not fit into certain style of architecture . But a solution could be found, there are always ways to please both of the parties. We have to work togheter for better understanding.
    All my love

  3. Parabens Paulo voce é um camepao,agora suas experiencias comeí§am
    a contar,sou escritora mas pouco conhecida no Brasil,mas em 2005
    falei de muitas aguas me afogando ,nos afogando ,estava certa
    hoje escrevo romances,quero lhe mandar nao sei como um romance quando ficar pronto
    Retratos de uma vida,voce vai gostar tenho certeza,escrevo em finas palavras ,finos capitulos mas a mensagem está lá,beijos

  4. Sandra says:

    “There are other explanations for the widespread unease with Islam: its frequent association with jihad and terrorism; the demands by Muslims for special considerations that go against the European norm, such as segregation by gender at public swimming pools; practices like polygamy, which is illegal in many Western countries; and a sense that some Muslims do not value, or even repudiate, values that are at the core of European civilization, such as free speech and the separation of church and state.

    None of these issues has anything to do with minarets . . .”

    So is the writer saying the minarets are a ruse hiding the very serious concerns listed in the first paragraph?

    The minaret gambit may be weak, but so is his argument against it. Paul responded well to this above.

    Fundamentalist religion is frightening in all its forms.

    Fundamentalist Islam is the fastest growing religion on earth.

    Rather than arguing about architecture, we should be discussing why that particular religion is being embraced, and by which populations. People seek solutions to real problems. The solutions may not always be to “our” liking.

  5. Dear Paulo,

    I read the article just before sleep – it was preterbing – and then, instead of a nightmare, had a beautiful dream.

    Just finished reading ‘One’ by Richard Bach and found these quotes rippling:
    ” I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth it? ”
    ” Hate is love, without the facts. ”
    ” What you hold in your heart shall be true, and what most you admire, that shall you become. ”

    Feeling grateful to have spent this year educating myself. Feeling grateful to old friends, new friends and those yet to become loving friends.

    Thankful to Rumi’s writings. Likewise, grateful to Karen Armstrong for helpful books and also, her group called ‘Charter For Compassion’. Feeling very excited about this, and proud to be a member!

    Despite endless invitations from the media to feel otherwise, I will not fill my heart or mind with hatred or fear toward anyone, simply because of their choice of religion or geographic location and am ever so grateful for the same respect in return.

    Thinking as well about Jesus, a revolutionary and a dreamer.

    A heart FULL of Love to All, Jane : ) xo

  6. sara says:

    A Muslim point of view …
    I think that the most disturbing thing about this is not the referendum itself but the poster they used !!
    Let them ban minarets its their country but not with that “offensive” poster which shows minarets as missiles next to a veiled woman. It rises haters and racism and links terrorism to Islam.

    1. Pandora says:

      I am shocked to read this, and frankly horrified, have just found a link showing the poster you mention….



  7. RS says:

    where is the other article..the first one? been removed??
    first u twitt about that…then u change or remove it?

    second point: you seem all to confuse minarets with mosques…
    there is no ban on mosque building in Switzerland.
    stop that surreal discussion about swiss racism

    1. Tarek says:

      Dear Rs,
      I don’t think that anybody here is confusing mosques with minaret! Actually for this very reason nobody is understanding the ban.
      Obviously Architect is not the cause (mosques are usually build outside the cities) beside the campaign for the ban was so offensive (see Pandoras comment above). Or is it like Christiane Schlötzer in the “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” wrote (1.12.09) “For some only invisible foreigner is a good foreigner?”
      And NO nobody is labeling swiss as racists! I’ve been in Switzerland several times and I have lots of swiss friends and I know how lovely the people are..
      It is only that this atmosphere of fear and distrust building that is used by politicians from BOTH sides is so silly but very dangerous and have to stop.
      Love from Vienna.

  8. Nariman says:

    in my opinion this kind of events usually happen as a camouflage to some kind of political or economical crisis, and this is because they know that religion is the thing that moves people the most, participants or non participants as they were. religion is and always will be the main gossip subject for society and this is because they can never be sure about anything concerning the subject.
    well, this is what I think, doesnt have to be true

  9. Pandora says:

    I don’t understand what good can possibly be achieved by this ban, building regulations already are in place so there is no need for this ridiculous hype, why create such a negative political stance….

    Glad I don’t live there!

  10. Pandora says:

    Dear Paul

    “This world will never be just…. let’s just face face it!”

    I disagree, NEVER is too strong a word, when you are talking about the world, things that were thought of as impossible, became possible… things that are not possible now, will be come possible and be realised.

    Do not give up Hope.

    Lots of love

  11. The other day while surfing the net I read: “The state of the world is a reflection of our collective conversation. To change the world lets improve the quality of our conversation”. A very simple and brilliant expression that describes the cause of the several conflicts humanity is facing today.
    Ineffective communication is directly related to the absence of tolerance and an open-minded approach, where there is a tendency to disregard anything that is not in agreement with specifics beliefs or values. People react to different opinions, cultures, customs, religions and ideas with antagonism in a desperate attempt to shut down anything dissimilar to what they believe to be right. The human need to establish what is right or wrong is where the key of the matter truly lies as it settles nations and people apart.
    But, what determines what is right and wrong? Which principles should be used to establish that conclusion: yours or mine? If you are right then I’m wrong? If it’s not black then it’s white?
    There is right and wrong? It has to be that way or can we meet half way?
    True communication realizes when both parties meet half way, listening and respecting what both have to express. As a French philosopher once said: “I totally disagree with everything you said but I will defend with my life your right to say it!”
    When we meet half way we don’t pinpoint or judge as we are embracing things for what they are instead of trying to change them to meet our line of thoughts. If societies, communities, religions, political parties, etc stop having monologues and start having “conversations” we will definitely see a different state of the world. But then again, as Gandhi said: “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world”, so there we are… if you want the world to change, begin by changing your communication approach: stop having monologues and be ready to meet half way!

    An extract from my blog, which I think goes in line with this post.

    1. Clara says:

      Hi Gabi, everyone, yes, I also see the use of language is decisive. There is an excellent book named “Non-violent communication, a language of life” by Marshall B. Rosenberg, that I want to recommend, with Love & Respect, Clara

  12. Tarek says:

    Dear Paul,
    You are right this is one of the most used arguments here in Austria and maybe in Europe! But I thing it is wrong for several reasons:
    Firs, I agree with you that in lots (but not all) of Muslim countries there is no religious freedom (or any other kind of freedom) but hey I think it very bad for us as self described civilized and democratic countries to compare our selfs with Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, or any other countries that We label as having no human rights! We have to set the good example aren’t we? Any way I think it is so sad to see that country like Switzerland or Austria or Germany sets its minorities rights in comparison to Saudi Arabia.
    Second, there are some countries with Muslim majority where Christians and Muslims are living equally, if you have been in Damascus we’ll see that sometimes in the same building there is a Mosque and a Church (especially in the old city) and that churches there ring there bells each Sunday like in Europe and have no restrictions in building new churches. So, why we look always to the bad example (though it exists)? Yes we still can learn allot of good things even from those who we describe as third world..
    One last point, though I know what you meant by the example of Mecca.
    But Mecca is special case for Muslims it would be like building a Mosque (with a minaret) in the Vatican city..
    Love and freedom to everybody whatever and however he believes in..

    1. Dear Tarek,

      Thank you for your interesting perpective.I would just like to comment on a couple of things you said:

      “….if you have been in Damascas we’ll see that sometimes there is a Mosque and a Church in the same building….and they have no restrictions in building new churches.”

      Two of my friends happen to be the wives of Coptic Orthodox priests here in Egypt. Their husbands tell me that it is extremely difficult to get permission to build a Church here. If they do manage to get the permission, then the Muslims build a Mosque right next to the Church, and I think with the biggest minaret available! So if you look around the city, you will never find a Church without a Mosque, but you will find plenty of Mosques without Churches.

      Personally, this doesn’t bother me that much, but some members of the established Orthodox Church are angry, and I think we could forgive them for calling this behaviour “fanatic”!

      All the best, Theresa

    2. Tarek says:

      Dear Theresa,
      Thank you for your response,
      You are absolutely right I heard about how bad the the thing in Egypt and sadly, in many other Muslim countries. But as I wrote above I think Europe have to set the example of human rights and use at pretext to discriminate against its own minorities.
      For Damascus issue the Churches in the new city parts are large and have their own structure. It was in the old city were they shared the space more than 1000 years ago and I always found mesmerizing when the call for preyers and the sound of the church bells mixed together in Sundays..
      In fact I can say safely that there is not so many places in the world were Christians and Muslims are living in peace and tolerance like in Damascus (Europe can learn lots about this particular issue from there) one can go there and see that personally..
      So, I felt that it is not fair to state only bad examples though they exists and sadly maybe they represent the majority I wanted to that light exists and it works somewhere in the world.
      Love to everybody.

  13. Omnia says:

    @ Tarek, thanks… I agree with you.
    I belive to change the world; I have to look at myself first and start that change. Mind my own -ve sides, work on it, and definitely it will be reflected someday somehow on others and the world accordingly positively.
    I have a question also, I need to know what is the sever damage, harm, or whatever the minarets are causing there?!!!!!!!
    Is just everything is doing great in Swizerland and the only thing left to be amended is the minaret?

  14. jacky says:

    hy everyone…i dont know what to say i live in switzerland zurich, i travelled a lot also in muslim countries and i never had problems as i am christian.. we have already 1 minarette in zurich and we never had problems bc the muezzin its not allowed to pray there is it just a symbol.. we have a lot of moschees nobody tells something about.. i think a lot of swiss people has fear that in every second corner could be a minaret in about 10 years..nobody know..but for me i think the whole initiative was wrong… the mad it in a wrong way.. i never had problem with muslems i have a lot of friends from turkey egypt etc. and a lot of them told me for them the minarett is not important.. they are happy that they could live in switzerland has a job and earn good money… it was also the wrong time to vote for this (bc we have 2 hostage in lybia since 500 days) swiss people are scared…i hope everything will find a peacefull end bc i am tired about the whole disscussion… let bill minarets but with controll..and be respectfull to each other… thats the only message i could tell..
    ps it is also not the answer that a german militant muslem comes to switzerland and makes protest…i hope that this dont will be end in a “war” of militants personns…

  15. Very interesting article! Thank you Paulo for posting this!
    Here we have again, power struggles, rules, politics and law, in the name of religion… None of us really know what exactly is going on behind closed doors. Why are we so scared of each other? ah… a pointless question.

    I remember when I traveled to India, the first morning I was in Bombay, I was woken up to sounds of chanting and prayer. It must have been about 5am. just at the break of dawn when it’s still dark, but the light starts illuminating through. I woke up a bit startled as I didn’t know what was happening. From my window, I could see the mountains and the city, still quiet and asleep, but the sounds of the prayers were… so magical. I couldn’t see where it was coming from yet it was haunting, mesmerizing, echoing through the mountains, singing through the trees, filling and permeating everything, the mountains and all of the city, even myself, I felt a subtle yet intense connection to everything. It was Beautiful!

    I wish Love upon the blue planet!

  16. Hicham Maged says:

    Thanks for posting the link dear Paulo.

    This referendum -from my point of view- was not about ‘minarets’ themselves but what they represent as the voters think and the circumstances involved this voting which lead portion of Swiss to vote for banning. If any body is interested, he/she can check my post regarding this over my blog.

    Anyway, I am wondering where the world is heading to; people are calling for better understanding but it seems the opposite is happening and here I do not mean Muslims only but all people in the matter of fact.

  17. chieko says:

    sorry for commenting something off the topic but i just wanted to talk about migration/emigration.
    we are free to move and live around. but some people leave country just because of lack of job. while some people are working outside the other people should take care of their country to rebuild it. otherwise nothing seems to improve. some of those countries were once flourished in the past. i just wonder what happened to those famous poets, artists, and great leaders.
    i do not like naming real names here but i think china is doing good. they welcome those unprivileged people in china and educate them and return them to their countries to rebuild so that they can be independent. (actually i was moved by a chinese, working at a factory, who said in a interview that his purpose is to serve every unprivileged people in the world.)
    so my point is that we are here to serve each other, maybe to inspire each other, and i do not want to hear this kind of issue any more. thanks for reading.

    1. elaine says:

      Hi Cheiko,

      I agree with you that people should be free to move and live around the world if they feel so. I have the feeling that this was “the plan” that God and Goddess had for us in the beginning and still has for us. We are the ones who have to make it happen by putting out positive energy to make positive change. Doesn’t positive energy spark more than negative? The way to change the world is to HONESTLY dive into her and help our fellow beings to succeed. We need to search our hearts to know which way for us to go in our efforts. When my youngest two sons are out in the world and on their own, I will be teaching the power of POSITIVE HONESTY somewhere — perhaps China. Something tells me that you will be teaching the positive side, too. :-) (How are you doing with your “darker spirited” student?)

      Love and warm light to you,

  18. Kathleen.A says:

    So they are not allowing Minarets but still allowing Mosques? So then it is not so much a problem about Muslims living among them then – more wanting a limit on the architectural stuctures? It would be a problem if like in Saudi Arabia they don’t allow churches of other faiths to be built.

  19. kealan says:

    Nostradamus also had a prediction relating to this…

  20. Alastair says:

    This is all getting terribly out of hand!

    With some religions, they cannot wear their respective garments in some countries in case it offends or causes unrest, in some places of work a person cannot wear a cross in case it offends, local schools cannot hold nativity during the festive period in case it offends or causes distress!!
    On the other hand of course, we have symbols, material, words, human-beings, love, religion, Gods – all of which we have or use in our daily life and think nothing of it. We need to help others to get a grip and learn to respect others no matter what opinions or beliefs they have.

    I live in a small coastal town in Scotland, where eastern europeans have come, taken jobs and settled with very little unrest and the local people have not batted an eyelid – a lesson for the whole world, we are all the same, noone is any better or worse than each other!


  21. Clara says:

    Dear all,

    I saw industrialized societies are based on distrust. They are distrust-societies. But distrust is very rarely adequate to living. Yet these days to survive alone seems possible and to live difficult for the most of us.

    When I recognize distrust within myself I try, practice to be honest and clear about the fact: there is distrust in myself. Same time I know that I want understanding, love & freedom for everyone. —– I learned that this way – with this consciousness – distrust dissolves. It is not replaced by trust -it´s just no distrust anymore but a more neutral attitude.

    And then this is enough for the moment!
    Experience miracles – Life actually can work with a little willingness!

    With Love & Respect,


  22. Irina Black says:

    Half-aborted?Europe did say “A”,but doesn’t want to say “B”.Does it?

  23. Capri says:

    La intorelancia nos hace cada vez mas necios.

    Aqui en España no ha llegado todaví­a el problema de la mezquitas pero si se empieza ahora a discriminar los colegios católicos

    Un saludo

  24. Catherine E.A. says:

    I live in Britain.
    I have also lived in Saudi, Jordan, Egypt etc…
    I’m one who would say that I can understand why and how it has come “to this point”.
    Personally, being a Christian country, I can understand that Britain hopes to maintain its Christian identity.
    Perhaps Switzerland, however, is getting more stick, since it is historically ‘neutral’ or ‘politically correct’ in cases of conflict or contraversy.
    Well.. sorry.. but moderation is appropriate…
    and if there are too many minuets… then that is fine.
    I’d hope also that there is moderation where skyscrapers are concerned…. or football stadiums.. etc.

    In my opinion there is a problem with being politically correct or neutral where important issues are concerned.
    If Switzerland has taken this stand… well.. good… because obviously it needed to.

    I have much to say.. but for now… let’s try and understand.

    1. Catherine E.A. says:

      Is this not, anyway, comparable to Israel building on Palestine territory [and … excluding, isolating, building a wall around… the Palestinians] ?!

    2. Yes, I agree with you, Catherine. As I mentioned in my previous post, moderation is ‘appropriate’.

      I’m not an expert in mosques but it doesn’t seem to be necessary to have a minaret on top of each one. In fact, there is a beautiful mosque underneath my building, here in Egypt, and there are no minarets!

      I also think that each country should have the right to exercise it’s judgement on things which may obliterate the skyline such as church spires, minarets, stadiums, skyscrapers or wind-turbines.

      The essential is that NOBODY should lose his freedom to pray; and we can all pray even in the middle of the desert !!!

    3. Pandora says:

      Dear Catherine

      I read that there are only four in Switzerland…. not many…. at… all!

      I fail to understand this vote, which is being implemented by the far right.


  25. Thank you for posting this link, Paulo.

    I think that EVERYONE should have the freedom to worship as they wish, in whatever country they happen to be living. As regards the number of places of worship, MODERATION is the key.

    1. Mary says:

      Hi all. I agree with you Theresa. I am not a biased person , live and let live is my motto. I live in Ireland , a christian country. I have never visited a Muslim country but if I did I would respect the customs of those countries. The fear for western countries is that our customs have to change to facilitiate SOME Muslims. I don’t know if they are fanatics but I feel they must be. For example, last Christmas our Dublin crib had to be moved to a different area in the city because some Muslims complained about it. Also take the incidence in Italy where some people found the crucifix insulting in schools. Italy is a Christian country, so customs should be respected. There are other examples, but we have a saying “when in Rome do as the Romans do”. I think this should be followed wherever we go and respect the customs of the country we’re in. If I was living in a Muslim country I would dress appropriately. It’s easy for people living in a foreign country to say they are discriminated against. If they consider the customs of the country they are living in they will realise that they are not discriminated against if they look at the traditions and customs of that country. I think they should consider these things before leaving their own countries.

    2. Dear Mary,

      Thank you for your interesting comments. I totally agree with you that we should “respect the customs of the country we are in.”

      As many know, I have lived in Egypt for 35 years and have kept my English Nationality and my religious beliefs(Catholic). Since the beginning, I have tried to adopt the Egyptian life-style and always tried to dress appropriately, but not wearing the veil, even Mrs Suzanne Moubarek, the President’s wife, doesn’t wear it! Most of my neighbours, colleagues and friends are Muslim and I know they respect me for who I am, including my Nationality and my religion. In all these years, I have NEVER experienced any kind of discrimination against me. Like you, Mary, my motto is “Live and let live”!

      God bless you, Theresa

  26. Monica says:

    Does that mean they will also ban Christmas? or they will continue using the Holyday to sell sell sell

    1. elaine says:

      Great question, Monica.

  27. Tarek says:

    Yes I believe that Europe have an identity problem..
    It is a problem of knowing herself..
    Erich Neumann wrote once something like:
    If one, be it individual or nation,does not know and confront his own problem (evil) or in other words if one consider evil foreign to him, then every foreign become evil…
    Yes instead of that Europe look into its own real ethical, political, and economic problems it is closing its eyes pretending that bad is only coming from those who are believing, looking, called differently..
    Time to wake up..

  28. elaine says:

    It’s time that we push the reading of Ayn Rand’s, “The Fountainhead.”

  29. Rombout says:

    Just today this matter was brought on the public forum in Flanders (Belgium). What follows is a short translation of an article today in a leading Flemish newspaper (De Standaard):

    “The liberal, socialist and ecologist parties want an absolute separation between Church and State. Crucifixes at the entrance of graveyards or civil servants wearing head scarves must be banned. Tomorrow the Commission of Institutional Reforms will discuss a bill in the Senate in order to make the principle of separation between Church and State absolute. The parties state that civil servants can in no way express their religious or ideological belief when exercising public offices. Furthermore no religious signs may be visible on moveable or immoveable public property. Crucifixes at the entrance of graveyards must be banned, though individual symbols on graves can be tolerated. The bill also wants to end the celebrating of the national holiday with a Te Deum (official mass in presence of the government and the royal family).”

    In France president Sarkozy launched a nationwide discussion on national identity… while in Copenhagen the world is discussing global warming.

    Listen to what Rabindranath Tagore has to say:

    “You always stand alone beyond the stream of my songs.
    The waves of my tunes wash your feet but I know not how to reach them.
    This play of mine with you is a play from afar.
    It is the pain of separation that melts into melody through my flute.
    I wait for the time when your boat crosses over to my shore and you take my flute into your own hands.”

    Love, Bout

  30. Thank you for your reply, dear Annie.
    What you say is very true; we should give to others the same freedom we expect from them. Mutual respect at all times..
    Love, Theresa

  31. Miracles do happen!

    “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to all men, Alleluia!”

  32. Liliana says:

    “But how many of us know that there are only four minarets in Switzerland “” for a population of 400,000 Muslims?” 
    This is totally untrue!! In CH there are 140 mosques from which only 4 have minaret, minaret which is not essential to be a good Muslim. You should know better than many that the faith comes from inside and not from the simbolic tower either minaret or the bell tower. As you have the enormous responsability of you words, so many people follow you, please make sure to check your sources, thanks.