On minarets, part One, more to be said (if time.)
To amend the Constitution 100 000 must sign an initiative, for a referendum to take place.
Initiatives can be refused by the higher Authorities,
> if they are against core international law (torture, genocide, etc.) or violate treaties
> if they are logically flawed (e.g. self-contradictory)
> if they are too vague
> if for some reason they unequivocally cannot be implemented (such as in having already been implemented - this happened once. ‘Bring the soldiers home’ can’t be done if they are already all at home.)
However, they can be very vague, and express a wish, a desire, a principle, with the working out of the details implicitly left to the sagacity of parliament. This is in line with the idea that ordinary citizens may not have law degrees but powerful ideas or desires.
For example, we have had a spate of dog-banning votes, and I gathered from the multiple judiciary discussions that the in English 7-letter initiative BAN DOGS would be acceptable. The word ‘interdire’, forbid, is unambiguous, and the ontological definition of CHIEN is unproblematic. Moreover, anyone can easily imagine the various exceptions, time-lines, etc. that would have to be hammered out (blind guide dogs, circus dogs, no dogs are to be killed, etc.) The tolerance for vagueness is also a sign of trust - the people say, this, Dear Leaders, is what we want, and we trust that you will work it out in line with our wishes, and not mess around with new laws that re-label dogs as canines with four legs or less. (That trust is problematic now.)
A few days ago I was downtown and saw 3 minarets, all hastily constructed out of crates, cardboard, etc. One of them bore the inscription THIS IS NOT A MINARET. The po-lice were discussing this matter in a friendly way with the 10 or so creators of this temporary, rather handsome, monument. It looked like a minaret, if rather small, but of course was not a minaret as not attached to a mosque. Or? They did not seem to be able to decide.
Now, the Swiss have a long tradition of forbidding things that reach up into the sky. Soon, the good burghers of Zurich will vote on limiting new constructions to ...40 meters! A modern metropolis! Weird. Church steeples were of course forbidden in many cantons for ages. If you come out of Geneva train station and look to your right you will see what looks like a large neo-gothic church - its been cleaned recently and looks majestic - it is sans steeple, sans bells. The picture linked below shows Notre Dame in Lausanne, the steeple was added on in the middle 1930s after the citizens trailed to the voting booth to allow it. Very odd looking church I must say.
So the Swiss do not like... They also dislike towers, unless they are very ancient and superbly historic with guides and all that. You can’t build a round tower around here. There is one house nearby which has a sort of towered extension, mock gothic in concrete and beige stucco - a monstrosity that ppl want to destroy. (The building permission authorities must have been drunk one day back in the 60s.)
Square and low is good, round and high is bad. The minarets never stood a chance.
I’m afraid the Federal Council didn’t twig to these facts. Or maybe they did, which is why they only campaigned against the initiative in a very muted, weak way, realizing that discussing the damn things at all would only make matters worse. I know three atheists that voted for the ban, and their vote, I am utterly convinced, was not secretly motivated by an anti-Muslim sentiment. One said: “I cannot compromise my principles on this matter, even to be nice (“gentil”) to my Muslim friends. I am against all religious symbolism. I’m really happy the International Court (Strasbourg) is forcing the removal of the crucifix in Italian schools.” Anti-clericalism and rigid secularism is alive and well - this is a person aged 23. To my surprise, today’s paper quotes a 60 year man who said almost exactly the same thing.
I am not trying to minimize anti-Muslim feelings in Switzerland, but wish to point out that in this age of perpetual alarmism concerned with symbols, (semiotique de boulevard, or street symbolism, a lot of blah much of it) material reality and concrete objects tend to disappear from view. Over-interpretation is rife. It is encouraged by Gvmts, politicians, etc. both on the left and right, it excuses their inanity and stupidity, they love ‘unexpressed fears’, ‘the clash of civilizations’, ‘the terror of radical Islam’, etc.
A second point of interest is that the initiative was not expected to pass.
It was not an initiative of the People’s Party, but of 6 individuals. The PP was initially against, and the Big Leader (Christoph Blocher) spoke out against it; the President of the Party has carefully not spoken one single word on the topic, before or after - dead silence summed up in two words, No Comment. (My guess - both are astute politicians and predicted the initiative might be accepted.)
However, the PP assembly of delegates gingerly voted, after some time, to support the initiative (forget the score but it was not massive either way), the reason being that lack of support would have split the party, or at least would have made it lose about? 20% or more of its adherents, thereby washing away 10 years of hard work, forfeiting their status as CH’s no. 1. party, etc. The PP is a messy, confused opposition party that has no political core and cannot govern, its clout comes from its nuisance capacity, and the threats it brandishes to the ruling elite, keeping them on their toes so to speak.
The local chap (PP) who campaigned hard, and completely alone, for the initiative, about fainted when he heard the result - sadly for him the TV cameras were present. Since then he has also muttered No Comment. (He may have said something about the will of the people that I missed.) The PP did not campaign, except for the famous posters one can see all over the net. These are traditional, tongue in cheek, and designed by a famous graphic artist. The voices pro and contra came from the public - ministers, women’s activists, PP individuals, lawyers, constitutionalists, etc. All political parties except for the hard right published screeds against. The Federal Council advised against. Unions, associations, churches, etc. - against, but then felt they had done their duty and slipped away.
The establishment was gob-smacked.
They are accustomed to the political dance with the PP, their positions and initiatives that never get anywhere, are always rejected by the voters, and are in fact designed with that purpose in mind. (Homosexual ‘marriage’ comes to mind - PP ranted and raved against and the voters said, too cool.) This one slipped through the cracks, exposing the PPs contradictions.
The upshot is that everyone is appalled, except the voters! It is big setback for the PP, it has - in the public, international eye - even if they are not responsible originally - created a problem that everybody would like to ignore, a nasty hot potato.
Of course, I think the Swiss Constitution including a new one line article "The building of minarets is verboten" is beyond the pale.