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YFIL Graduate Talking Series - Lorenz Langer

The Yale Forum on International Law (YFIL) is pleased to welcome

Lorenz Langer

who will present his paper

"Panacea or Pathetic Fallacy? The Swiss Ban on Minarets"

April 14 at 12:00 p.m.,  Room 109

Lunch will be provided.

On November 29, 2009, Swiss voters adopted a ballot initiative introducing a constitutional ban on the construction of minarets. The supporters of the initiative had argued that minarets were not a religious symbol, but a token of power and conquest: banning them would offer a panacea to the creeping Islamisation of Switzerland. The ban’s opponents, on the other hand, had warned that the ballot initiative violated national and international provisions on non-discrimination and the free exercise of religion.

Lorenz argues that the ban is indeed irreconcilable with the Swiss constitutional bill of rights and several international human right provisions. Yet the vote also raises questions about the extent and the means of popular participation in policy-making. In contrast to state ballots in the United States, there is no judicial review of initiatives in Switzerland; respect for the vox populi trumps any concern over conflicting international obligations. It is suggested that unbridled popular sovereignty becomes problematic if exercised at the expense of the equal rights of minorities.

Ascribing to an architectural structure the power to introduce a theocracy amounts to a pathetic fallacy. But the often irrational fears over Muslim immigration that underlie the minaret ban are widespread in Europe.  The paper suggests an approach to integration that carefully balances expectations of Muslim adaption with a less exclusive construction of European identity.