What does Europe want from the Muslim community?
Well, you got me.
Like a party host who complains that her country cousins aren't mingling with the guests, and then seats them at the children's table at dinnertime, Switzerland, Denmark and France can't make up their mind about the so-called "Muslim problem."
The French want to ban the burka. Danish newspapers like to poke sticks at Muslims by publishing offensive cartoons. Now, 57 percent of Switzerland's voters have passed a referendum to ban the construction of minarets on mosques. Yet some European government officials complain, "Why don't Muslims assimilate into our society?"
And I ask: "Why would I want to?"
For all the phony talk about Muslim assimilation into white European Christian society, some EU countries do their best to marginalize us. In Switzerland, about 6 percent of the population is Muslim, a great many who are war refugees from Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I agree that it's likely that these first-generation Muslims have difficulty assimilating into European society, but that's true of first-generation immigrants in any country throughout history. Their offspring, however, are a different story. In 20 years time we'll see many second-generation Eastern European Muslims fit right into Swiss society. That is as long as the government resists the temptation to pass discriminatory laws against their right to worship and practice their cultural customs and traditions like everyone else.
There are two troubling aspects of the minaret ban. There is little of the Islamic extremist ideology found in Switzerland that would prompt such discrimination. And the country's constitution essentially prohibits anti-religious laws.
Unlike France and Denmark, there has been little talk of the "Islamification" of Switzerland. There are few burka-clad, dark-skinned Asian Muslim women walking the streets of Geneva and Zurich. Aside from the occasional web rants of extremists, there are no calls for Shariah to replace Swiss laws. There are about 150 mosques in Switzerland, most of which are no more than large prayer rooms. There are no calls for prayer over loudspeakers. Only four mosques have minarets.
So where do these anti-Muslim sentiments come from? I blame the ultra-right wing Swiss People's Party, the junior version of the British National Party and the Dutch Party for Freedom. The Swiss People's Party's clever ad campaign for the referendum featured an advertisement of a scowling burka-clad woman next to sprouting black minarets atop the Swiss flag. It's a compelling image that plays on the fears of the Swiss.
But I also blame European Muslims who allow extremist websites to present a skewed image of Islam. Imams, Islamic scholars, Muslim journalists and social workers do so little to stem the tide of public opinion. European Muslims need to shed their reticence to defend themselves by countering claims of the Islamification of Europe.
A case in point is the October appearance of BNP's Nick Griffin on the BBC's Question Time. Griffin's odious anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim positions were exposed by Muslim and Christian participants on the television show. The exposure demonstrated that BNP's policies were not based on facts and logic, but on hate.
Switzerland's Muslims can remain silent and continue to be marginalized or they can involve themselves in government policy and through the media to shape their future. Frankly, I'm a little weary of the namby-pamby "let's not rock the boat" attitude of Muslims. It didn't work for Jews in the 1930s and I don't think it's going to work for Muslims today.
The other uncomfortable aspect of the referendum is that it flies in the face of Switzerland's constitution. The constitution bans discrimination against persons on the "grounds of origin, race, gender, age, language, social position, way of life, religious, ideological, or political convictions, or because of a physical, mental or psychological disability."
Swizz government leaders have indicated they have no choice but to pass the referendum into law. But I sense that the referendum can be challenged on constitutional grounds. It also should be noted that although a clear majority of Swiss voters want the referendum to be the law of the land, it doesn't mean it's a good law. There's no question that a massive mosque with minarets will look out of place in a neighborhood surrounded by 17th century architecture. But that's a zoning issue decided at the local level.
And that's precisely the reason why this is a referendum that discriminates against one specific religion. The design and construction of a mosque or any building is a decision best left to local districts. By taking the decision out of the hands of local officials and declaring that minarets - not cathedrals or synagogues - should be banned throughout the country changes the issue from one simply of architecture to one of religion.
Switzerland has enjoyed a global reputation as a nation of tolerance and a safe haven for the oppressed. That reputation was rocked in the mid-1990s when it was revealed that Switzerland's banking industry colluded with Nazi Germany to plunder accounts of depositors in occupied countries during World War II. Swiss banks also refused to release the account funds of Holocaust survivors after the war. The controversy greatly upset the Swiss who saw their reputation as a tolerant country impugned.
The Swiss are now facing a new but similar test. Do they join the ranks of Denmark and France in allowing right-wing political groups manipulate its citizens' emotions with unsubstantiated rhetoric? Or do they take the right path by embracing all religions and cultures of people who seek a fair shake when they cross into their borders?