Sunday's referendum in Switzerland, in which more than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons voted in favour of a ban on further construction of minarets, has been strongly criticized by the president of the Vatican's Council for Migrants. Msgr Antonio Maria Vegliò said the popular support for the construction ban, urged by a right-wing party as needed to prevent the "Islamicization" of the country, was a "heavy blow for religious freedom and integration".
There are only 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and they make do with just four minarets in the whole country. But the Swiss People's Party managed to whip up a nice head of steam over Muslims imposing Sharia law, using this poster that was as eyecatching as it was deplorable, while the mainstream parties did very little.
It is a good illustration of the scapegoat mechanism. The smaller the minority, the easier it is to whip up hatred against it. Muslims make up about 6% of Switzerland's 7.5 million people, many of them refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, and fewer than 13% practise their faith. It's not as if there was a backlash against muezzins either -- Swiss mosques do not broadcast the call to prayer outside their buildings. Switzerland has about as much chance of being 'Islamified' as being flat.
Yet the Swiss People's Party managed to turn a 37% support for the ban a week before the referendum into a 57% vote on Sunday, by preying on fears, resentment and ignorance.
Religious freedom is indivisible, and the Swiss vote is an attack on the religious rights of minorities everywhere. Which is why it is good to see the Church stepping up to the principles of Dignitatis humanae and condemning both the campaign and the vote. The Swiss Catholic bishops, reports The Guardian, have issued a statement regretting the ban, accusing the rightwing Swiss People's party of caricaturing and exaggerating the alleged threat posed by Muslims, and warning that the ban "will not help Christians oppressed and persecuted in Islamic countries". Good for them.
It is vital that the Church stands out against the paranoid xenophobic nationalism beginning to infect Europe. Some Catholics are tempted by the notion of standing up to attacks on European Christian civilization; but it is not Muslims, but secularists, who are leading that "attack". Muslims are the scapegoats, conveniently to hand. If Catholics do not stand up for them against xenophobes, it won't be long before the nationalists come for us, too.