Standing up for the minareties

This week, felix resumes its search for ever more unusual metaphorical places to indulge its fondness for hallucinogenic drugs. If you feel up to it, join us in today’s issue as we take a trip down memory lane.

In your unsuspecting innocence, beloveds, you may have thought our vicious and scathing periodical was a recent creation. The hateful campness that litters its pages like its pages litter the campus could only, you suspected, have been born of a cynical, post-Vietnam, post-Thatcherite postal strike-ridden world. Well, far be it for me to destroy that illusion, but allow me to destroy that illusion. This cat, you see, is no ordinary cat. It has breeding. It has a history, a lineage and a degree of pedigree unmatched by your Clapham common or garden-variety moggie.

For today’s issue, in case the brilliance of my invective has blinded you to any of the large number of hints strewn throughout the remainder of this paper, marks our 60th anniversary. And it is in an attempt to honour the numerous incarnations of our beloved mascot that we stroll down the long and winding road that leads to the land of nostalgia.

Various section editors will be attempting to recreate the atmosphere of 1949 Britain, with potentially amusing consequences for our games and technology writers. And my life has been made a great deal easier by the world’s decision to revive the fun, quirky atmosphere which pervaded international politics in the years following the Second World War.

I am talking, of course, about the wise, level-headed and insightful decision made by the Swiss people to prevent the building of minarets in their land-locked European land of fermented milk and money. I use the third-person plural there for understandable yet unforgivable reasons. For although I myself chose to abstain in the referendum, my Swiss citizenship forces me to be associated with its repercussions. And its repercussions in the political arena may well be significant, as national leaders and individual legal experts alike are queuing up to hurl rotten tomatoes at the Swiss as they languish in the depreciating stocks of international opprobrium.

The world’s opinion of my country is vitally important to me, of course, but my own opinion matters even more. And what I find particularly worrying is what the vote says about my chosen homeland.

The danger posed by fundamentalist Islam is real, and it is understandable why the Cantonal malcontents of Thurgau, Glarus and Appenzell Innerrhoden would be opposed to minarets blocking their scenic views of lakes and mountain ranges. But attempting to solve any form of cultural problem by banning their construction is akin to combating cancer by declaring tumours illegal. It is symbolic, superficial and, most importantly, silly.

Nothing is achieved by forbidding mosques to construct minarets, other than a preservation of the pristine patina of parochial propriety which matters most to those who think least. Treating the tiny Muslim population of Switzerland as though their customs and religion are not welcome will do very little to improve the problem of cultural integration.

All in all, this decision must go down in Swiss history as the most misguided political move since Hermann Gessler stuck his hat on a pole in the Altdorf town square and asked Mr. William Tell why he wasn’t saluting it like all the other good little people. That particular incident gave rise to an ingenious new method for coring apples, a Rossini overture, and Swiss independence in one fell swoop. It strikes me that the more recent Helvetic developments may not prove quite so productive.

This is the unfortunate problem posed by direct democracy. Allowing the people to decide for themselves can be a dangerous business, as all too often that is precisely what they will do. Taking decisions by national referenda automatically allows the 50% of the population who are even more bigoted, less well-informed and lazier than the average voter to have what passes for a majority in any federal decision.

While many of my compatriots are people as decent and charming as any you could hope to find between the Pyrenees and the Urals, the country is as choc-a-block full of cuckoos as a Swiss cheese is of holes. I wouldn’t trust half the people who live on my street to look after my nephew for an afternoon, so why would I want them to look after his future? Fortunately they have very little chance of doing either, given as my nephew lives on a different continent.

It may be old-fashioned and elitist to claim that ordinary people need help governing themselves, but I expect those individuals who make the important decisions to be accountable to their citizenry – not emasculated by them. A Utopian system of direct democracy works well in small, homogeneous communities, but minorities will be crushed the moment they dare to make themselves known.

Speaking with my emotional baggage as a Jew, as well as with my mental baggage as a thinking human being, I find the results of last week’s vote unspeakably repellent and utterly shameful. And I will shout it as loudly as I can from the top of the nearest minaret.


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