Voters in Switzerland passed on Sunday with 57.5% of the vote a referendum banning the construction of minarets on mosques. Of course the referendum could have repercussions throughout the continent. In Italy, for instance, the anti-immigrant Northern League celebrated the surprising result with glee. “The forest of minarets, a dangerous symbol more of the threat of Islamic terrorism than a place of prayer, won’t change the countryside of the ancient fatherland of federalism and of freedom,” exulted Mario Borghezio, an exuberant Northern League member of the European Parliament. “Switzerland forever white and Christian,” he added.
As such extemporaneous comments show, along with some of the posters that were used to promote the ban (see here to get an idea), although the vote no doubt reflects fears of extremism, it also seems to be intended to be a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. But the issue is more complex and involves a lot more than what all the European Borghezios could ever imagine.
That’s why, soon after reading a superb piece by Vittorio Messori—the first journalist in history to publish a book-length interview with a Pope, the best-selling Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994), and the author of Jesus Hypothesis (1976)—in last Monday’s Corriere della Sera, I thought it was better to call upon him to speak here, too. So, once again I emailed Mirino and asked him whether he was willing to undertake the task to translate the article from Italian into English. His answer was “Yes” (thank you so much, my friend!), and below is the result.
The white cross against the red background of the flag (square, like that of the Vatican, not rectangular) is seen everywhere in Switzerland. It’s an omnipresent landmark, an unrenounceable sign of identity of the 26 states, subdivided in 23 cantons, where there are four official languages, where the Catholics cohabit with the Protestants of many churches and confessions, and where being non-conform with the majority is traditional.