As regular readers will know, I do a lot of work in Switzerland. I’m the author of the Rough Guide and have written dozens of articles over the years about travelling in Switzerland. I’ve got a soft spot for the place – but the Swiss need help. They’re afraid. The largest party in the Swiss parliament, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), have exploited the politics of fear to call – and win – a referendum banning the construction of minarets. On a 53% turnout, 57.5% voted in favour.
The repulsive SVP, who’ve used what the Financial Times called “strident populism” to target ‘foreigners’ of all kinds in Switzerland as criminals, benefit cheats or worse, kicked off the campaign with the poster opposite: “Stop! Yes to the minaret ban”. Look at the imagery: minarets as missiles, women as menacing, the burqa as concealment, black as a threat, the Swiss flag cast into shadow from the east, the cross obliterated.
In response, this poster from the Swiss Inter-Faith Association has its head – literally – in the clouds. “The heavens over Switzerland are big enough”. Does this allay the fears sparked by the first poster. Not even close. Dreamy, drifty, irrelevant.
The fearmongers came back with another minaret as missile, this time punching straight through the heart of the Swiss cross (right).
The odious Federal Democratic Union chipped in with this crude depiction (left) of an out-of-scale minaret towering over medieval Swiss architecture – the politics of fear, again. Not appeals to the heart, or intellectual symbolism: plain “this is how it will be”. The tagline translates as “Everything’s fine without minarets”, or “Minarets aren’t necessary”.
So the Society of Minorities hit back hard with, er, this child’s game of “name the flag” (right). Colourful but utterly incoherent. “States where religious freedom is restricted” is the headline. “Don’t let it get this far,” they plead, placing Switzerland beside Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Aside from the questionable reasoning here – promote liberalism in your own country by condemning the lack of it elsewhere – who thought that this poster would mean ANYthing to ANYbody?
Whereas this – a big fat ugly minaret displacing the much-loved medieval Wasserturm tower in central Lucerne (left) – needs no words of explanation. Though, handily, the Lucerne racists have helpfully added “Stop Islamisation!” to ram their message home.
So liberal politicians decided the gloves were off, and produced, er, this (right). “Stop the madness”. More woolly-headed bleeding-heart begging, allied to more inexplicable graphic nonsense. As if showing religious architecture rubbed out like this means anything. Does this outrage, in the way the Lucerne image outrages? Or the minarets-as-missiles poster outrages? Not even close.
And finally, the crowning ignominy (right): the Green party in the Aargau region decided that if they couldn’t beat the racists, they’d join them. Deciding to mix the minaret vote with another referendum about defence procurement, they placed a minaret side by side with a missile, and served up two contradictory calls-to-action.
And Swiss liberals wonder why they lost the vote. A miserable failure to connect with the issue, address the fears stoked by the racist right or even design poster campaigns with an ounce of wit or visual pull. Liberal fail equals racist supremacy.
See the campaign posters here.