Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Minarets Here There Everywhere

I waited for the Swiss plebiscite on the banning of Minarets at Mosques to go off the front page of the news before writing this.

In short, the Swiss, a country with three languages and cultures, German, French and Italian decided that it would be okay to ban Minarets, the Islamic Tower attached to a Mosque, from all future construction in the country. Traditionally the Minaret is a place where Muslims are called to prayer by human voice, Mohammed did not like bells.

There are already four minarets in Switzerland. I don’t know how many Mosques or Islamic Centers there are but out of a population of approximately eight million Swiss, three to four hundred thousand are Muslim. From the news I have read, most of these Muslims are Albanian and many of them refugees more than likely escaped from the Kosovo conflict in the breakup of Yugoslavia of a decade ago.

From what I have read, these Muslims are quite secular, not fanatical. In appearance and dress they are like everybody else.

So what’s the problem? I would have to imagine it stems from the fact that Switzerland has over twenty percent of its permanent and temporary population as non-Swiss born foreigners. The Swiss in a global world are having to deal with cultural shocks that Americans takes mostly in stride with it diverse history and population.

Perhaps a minaret painted or decorated in bright middle-eastern colors conflicts with the dull gray tones of traditional Swiss architecture. In any case, this ban is symbolic of a resistance or a grass roots feeling that change is not a good thing in Switzerland.

Even if Islam is not overtly threatening to the average Swiss citizen, there must be overflow of media from Germany and France where tensions with Muslims exist. The Germans have a large foreign based worker population and in particular from Islamic countries. The French are obsessed with Muslim women wearing traditional headdress in every day society. With the French I have wonder if their attitudes would change if Muslim women wore designer Hermes scarves – oh just a thought.

In all fairness to the Swiss there is no reciprocity in Saudi Arabia where only a few churches are allowed, without bell towers for diplomats and foreign workers only. Even then these plain church buildings are usually out of sight and reached down low traffic streets and alley ways. But the Saudis are not really the issue here.

Europe is changing. The world is changing. Even in the Muslim world, westernization continues in some degree, if only in the use of western style technology and the Internet, even if there is not outward signs of change. East meets West. West meets East and frictions exist.

The picture of a mosque above is of the local one here in Staten Island, not the only one in New York City. The building you see is a recycled factory. The Minaret is non functioning. It is decoration and a recycled chimney from that old factory. Albanian Muslims also escaped here to America from Kosovo. They are European in outward appearance and they have revitalized a dying neighborhood, saving it from urban blight.

I remember after 911, Police cars were parked in front of the gates of this complex 24/7 for a few weeks. The Police were there is insure the freedom of worship clause not directly mentioned but inherently implied in our Constitution. Other than that I do not think many people notice or care that the building is there. It blends in with the rest of a mini-global culture of everyday America.

Day by day and year by year we are all becoming more alike in a Global sense. The ride from here to the future can at times be bumpy. In the future the road gets paved and local customs and habits will still exist but more or more people will be thinking globally and still acting locally. That may seem to be a strange paradigm and dynamic. But that is the likely energy flow of things going forward to a global culture and future.

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