The Swiss, as we know, have made a bold decision to be known for more than just cuckoo clocks, chocolate, Nazi gold and banks: now they want the world to see them as racists as well. The decision to ban minarets would strike any right-thinking person as ultra-nationalist at best, straightforwardly racist at worst. Well, you'd think so, but then you, my friend, haven't read the BBC Have Your Say discussion on it...
These are the most recommended comments, by the way - and it keeps on coming.
It always amuses me when the BBC is portrayed as a leftist institution when it's more than happy to allow this kind of debate to be swamped by the far right*. Well I imagine it's not more than happy, but what can you do? There are a couple of possible reasons for this: perhaps the vast majority, the 'silent majority' of people who read the BBC's news content, are extreme nationalists who hate Muslims of all shapes and sizes; or perhaps, just perhaps, ultranationalist groups target discussions like this in order to make their poisonous views seem more popular than they actually are. You can believe what you like, but if the views on this discussion are really representative of the majority of people in Britain then it is me, not them, who feels like a stranger in his own country and wants to leave.
SudaNim's comment sums up the classical 'oppressed white man' myth: that somehow, despite having all the advantages in life, white men are actually the ones who are most discriminated against. Chris in Nottingham brings out the textbook "If you don't like it then you can get out" attitute towards minorities so beloved of racists everywhere; and DaMuttzNutz produces the standard "Islamification aaargh we're all gonna die!" though I would have given bonus points for the use of 'dhimmitude', which I'm sure will turn up in the discussion somewhere.
Here's another argument you'll see time and time again: that because Saudi Arabia does something, we should be just as vile as them. But I don't think Saudi Arabia is really a nation whose values anyone should aspire to - is it? If Switzerland wants to be the Saudi Arabia of Europe, then it's more than welcome to. But I don't think it's a good argument to say "Islamic countries can be really repressive, therefore we should be just as repressive, out of spite" - that isn't the kind of society I want to live in. I don't want to live in a country that's taking part in a reactionary anti-freedom pissing competition.
And on, and on, and on it goes. A simple two-word comment like that gets voted positively by 54 people, but where are the opposing views? 4 pages in and still no sign of them... does everyone in the world really think that minarets are a terrible thing and that because there is little religious freedom in the Arab world, so that policy should be extended across Europe, and that's a good thing? Is that what we really think?
Oh, hang on:
But that's a mere island in the discussion, a mere moment in which another voice is raised, only to be squashed by the shouting of others.
I'm always left wondering what these debates actually achieve. What does this debate achieve, other than portraying westerners as idiots and racists? What does this do for anyone, except giving racists a place where they can congregate together and spout their angry invective? What have we gained from this, other than hearing that a lot of people think Europe should be more like Saudi Arabia, somehow, for some reason, or think that other cultures should not be allowed freedom of expression? Now I understand that's a perfectly legitimate viewpoint to have, vile though it is; but why are the BBC providing debates that are a touchstone for these extremist thoughts? This is just the sort of way in which the ultranationalist far right will claim it's actually in the majority or represents the real views of people.
Forty-seven per cent of people in Switzerland, you'll remember, voted against the ban on minarets. Yet you'd be hard-pressed to find 47 per cent of BBC Have Your Say correspondents who feel that way. So it's not even representative of Switzerland, the country which imposed the ban, let alone Britain, or let alone the wider community in Europe or reading these debates across the world. Again, you have to ask: what does this do, apart from over-represent those who hate, those who are prejudiced, those who want to cause division and those who want to drive out minorities?
* No, racists are not extreme left-wing, no matter what kind of "Aha, but National Socialists, weren't they, eh?" sophistry you try and pull out of the bag.
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