Islamic Minarets and Christian Crosses

We've been recently treated to two rather surprising bits of religious news: on 29 November 2009, in Switzerland, a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets was approved by 57.5% of voters in a referendum, immediately causing a wave of dismay and contempt in European public opinion; on 3 November, in Italy, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that displaying crucifixes in Italian classrooms violates parents' rights to secular education for their children, causing widespread protest and an outcry in all political parties in Italy, from ledft to right.

Putting the two news together leads to some surprising conclusions about the state of religious affairs in Europe:

1. The referendum result in Switzerland clearly means one thing: Islamic minarets are considered offensive by a majority of the Swiss people. Some commentators have said it could be considered a normal reaction to the fact that no Christian church may be built in Saudi Arabia, the country that hosts the Mecca. If the Moslems are intolerant towards the Christians, why shouldn't the Christians feel just as intolerant towards the Moslems? An eye for an eye etc. But weren't we supposed to belong to the 21st century? Isn't Switzerland, home to the United Nations in Geneva and a host of international organizations like the Red Cross, supposed to be a tolerant, liberal country?

2. The European Court decision was very badly received in Italy largely because the crucifix in classrooms is a traditional fixture with no implications in terms of the content of education. You have a cross on the wall but you study Darwin's version of evolution. In short, there's no threat whatever to secular education. It's like saying the Red Cross should get rid of the cross in its flag because it implies the Red Cross is out to convert war victims to Christianity. So why is the European Court suddenly so intolerant towards a religious symbol?

What has happened to the good old-fashioned concept of TOLERANCE? Whether you think of yourself as a liberal (i.e. you're a supporter of "human rights") or you're a conservative out to defend Europe against the islamic invasion (i.e. you believe with Oriana Fallaci that it's all about "Eurabia"), you're both out to destroy religious concepts and symbols, whether Christian or Islamic. This is really a sad beginning for the 21st century. Some 20th century French philosopher once said (I can't remember who): le 21ème siècle sera religieux ou il ne sera pas! Which can be roughly translated as: the 21st century will be a time for religion or it won't exist. That is sadly true insofar as one associates INtolerance with religiosity...