Panacea or Pathetic Fallacy? The Swiss Ban on Minarets

On November 29, 2009, Swiss voters adopted a ballot initiative introducing a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets.  This Article provides a thick description of the minaret vote’s context.  A legal analysis addresses the implications of the ban under national, regional, and international normative frameworks.  The Article argues that the ban is irreconcilable with the Swiss constitutional bill of rights and several international human right provisions.  In Switzerland, however, respect for the vox populi potentially trumps any concern over conflicting international obligations, and there is no effective judicial review of initiatives.  This lack of judicial review is partly a result of the myth system of modern Switzerland and its emphasis on popular sovereignty.  Yet, the fears that fueled the prohibition of minarets in Switzerland are widespread in Europe.  Hostility to Islam is partly rooted in historical traditions and partly due to disagreement over how to integrate newcomers into Western society, and this Article suggests an approach that carefully balances expectations of Muslim adaptation with a less exclusive construction of European identity.

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