Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Swiss Ban Minarets.... God Bless The First Amendment

The nation of Switzerland known for
watches, Banking, and Tasty Chocolate is now
infamous for something else, banning religious architecture.

I remember the first time as a visitor to my mother's hometown in Italy the jarring presence of Muslim women in full chador on the piazza of the place of my ancestors. The fact that in our little Alpine town, amid the Churches and polenta there were Muslims was new a jarring.

I can understand the dismay of traditional Europeans with
this change. For those of us who are close to our roots Europe
conjures up certain images and minarets are not part of that narrative.

Europe is reaping what they have sewn over for the better part of 40 years Europeans have become both secular and addicted to immigrant labor to the jobs they no longer want to do. They have treated immigrants not as new neighbors but almost always as "Strangers".
Unlike the US, Brazil, Argentina and many nations with long immigrant traditions Europeans
have done a lousy job of integrating their immigrant populations into their societies.

How is it possible that I, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Chicago feel more connected to the valley in Italy where my mother comes than the Muslim immigrants living in that valley now? Why are they are still referred to as "Stranieri" or Strangers when their Grandchildren are now being born there?

It is possible that racism is to blame but I think the real issue is intolerance and a lack of honesty. For all of America's faults one of the things that we do very well is process immigrants and lay our cards on the table. There are other countries that do this well also, Brazil comes to mind.

Unlike Europe with its long history and traditions we in America based our nation on the following premise; as long as you are not hurting anyone else and you participate in the economic life of the nation you are welcome. This is not a nicety, there is much wrong with America but we have done a good job of making Italians, Arabs, Africans, Jews, Poles, Germans and Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews into Americans.

In Europe the 'native people' and the immigrants live very separate lives. In the US last week
I bet you that my Gujarati neighbors ate Thanksgiving like the rest of us and we both have Obama signs in our windows.

In Paris three and four generations of Muslims continue to live in Banlieues separated from society, in Chicago the owner of my local Dunkin Donuts, Mr Singh works at the counter with his Sikh turban on his head and he wears a Stanford or Williams sweatshirt sporting the school colors of his two children who are studying at those prestigious schools. We do a better of job
of integrating immigrants and maybe the Europeans could learn something?

I think it is because of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Americans, and that is what any immigrant is when they decide to come here are guaranteed the right to be left alone.

No matter what was said about Catholics when they first arrived the Protestant majority could not ban their churches or close their schools and they became Americans. When Jews arrived the majority had no right to ban their worship and they thrived. Today Muslims and Hindus are vibrant members of our society and achieve so much here because we have the First Amendment.

Maybe the Swiss should realize that diversity is a good thing and that the Chocolate is not that good served with a helping of bigotry.

God Bless the Bill of Rights