Switzerland: Mountains and minarets
Switzerland’s recent vote to ban the building of minarets drew widespread criticism. A look at the historical background to that decision, the result of a typically Swiss mixture of conservatism and democracy.
The Helvetic Confederation, the state known to the world as Switzerland, made international waves with its recent vote to ban the construction of minarets. Many sections of the media, international observers and national politicians view it is an affront to the freedom of religious belief guaranteed in the country’s 1874 Constitution, updated in 1999. Switzerland is a secular country though with a strong religious contingent – 80 per cent of people are Christian and can opt to pay a yearly stipend via their taxes to a chosen religious grouping. But there is a clear separation of church and state.
There is also a schism of sorts between Switzerland, with its image as a ‘beacon of hope and peace’, and the world outside. Unlike most European nations, Switzerland has remained firmly nationalist – it resisted entry to the European Economic Area in 1992 and only joined the United Nations in 2002. To become truly globalised the Swiss would have to reconcile their love of neutrality and isolation with an ideology opposed to patriotic ideals.
The Swiss historical path is the embodiment of the purist democratic ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, maintained by a Calvinist work ethic which has brought great wealth and the ‘magic formula’ of a multi-party executive cabinet of seven federal councillors, a revolving presidency and a ‘militia democracy’. Equality emanates from birth in Switzerland, a land fit neither for kings nor lords. A class system exists but is muted and discrete.