After the Swiss referendum: underestimated identity problems

The surprisingly clear vote in favour of banning minarets expresses unease with various causes. The implications too will no doubt be controversial. One thing is for sure: Switzerland’s politicians have underestimated immaterial concerns.

More significant that the direct consequences of the vote are the indirect ones and the atmosphere it has caused. Switzerland is not in a situation in which its image abroad is of no import. In some quarters, the ban on minarets may be registered with a shrug or even applauded. On the whole, however, Switzerland’s reputation as a nation of liberal freedom and diversity and the credibility of its human rights policies will suffer.

The outcome of the referendum presumably also reflects moods and views which have little to do with the Muslims themselves, opening up much scope for interpretation and deductions. Was it actually immigration on the agenda? The lack of spiritual orientation? The uncontrolled events in the global and local economy? For the time being, this is all mere conjecture.