Swiss NO vote to Minarets

The NO vote forbidding the building of Minarets in Switzerland raises interesting questions. Surely, European liberal democracies can deal with the spatial expressions of inter-multi-cosmo-culturalism. Neither Mohammed caricatures nor Minarets should disappear from the European visual landscapes of the 21st century.

It would be wrong to protect Christian (and neo-liberal) skylines from multi-cultural realities. Every European nation has a substantial Muslim minority with ‘a right to the sky’. However, it is also wrong to assume that the Swiss NO vote was entirely fuelled by reactionary feelings against ‘otherness’ and ‘difference’. Rather, the support of the NO campaign by left leaning intellectuals and feminists points towards an increasing unease with draconian political correctness that has closed debates and curtailed freedoms of expression. A critical perspective on multiculturalism is not bound to be informed by rightwing ideology.


Minarete in Switzerland

Minaret in Switzerland

Traditionally, sacred buildings dominated European cities and villages. Church towers presided over and rhythmically regulated the every-day. In modern capitalist space, the chimneys of industrial production and the skyscrapers of corporate capital replaced these. Manchester’s cathedral, for instance, is dwarfed by the CIS tower and even Strangeways Prison has a stronger presence among the city’s rooftops.

In recent years, religious symbols have become increasingly present again in public space. Different faith groups and communities living in our towns and cities have also the right to shape physical urban environments. These demands raised concerns that size does matter. Do dimensions correspond to faith groups? How high is too phallic? When is the call for prayer a form of noise pollution? Are new sacred buildings (and other religious expressions) symbols of political power assuming an increasingly intimidating grip on liberal society?

New Synagogue in Berlin

New Synagogue in Berlin

In the heat of these discussions, one should not lose sight of the aesthetic value of religious architecture and its capacity to create diverse and attractive urban spaces. Historic examples include the New Synagogue in Berlin’s Oranienburger Strasse and La Grande Mosqée de Paris . Both attract thousands of tourists every year. The Great Mosque in Cologne, planned to be Europe’s biggest house of Muslim worship, will combine contemporary architecture with Islamic aesthetics and might rival the Gothic dome as a tourist attraction.

The debate surrounding inter-ethnic city started with considerable delay and the pluralistic European space remains to be put in brick and mortar. The line between threatening and enriching is slippery and height is not its only frontier.

About: Robert Grimm

All over Europe, cities are faced with the challenge of using cultural resources to re-position their city in an increasingly culturally and economically diversified European space. Related to this is a clear recognition of the growing importance of cultural resources for economic and community development. This produces new opportunities and challenges for local cultural planning and management. In order to fully exploit the innovative and supportive role of culture in European urban development, it will be necessary to develop a new socially and culturally sensitive professionalism, able to cross the boundaries between the arts, design, urban and spatial planning, public policy and the market, artistic creativity and cultural management. The MA in European Urban Cultures offers a specialist programme aimed at graduate students from Europe and elsewhere with undergraduate degrees in subject areas such as the social sciences; cultural and leisure studies; art, design and architecture; urban theory and planning; cultural marketing and management. The course is also targeted at professionals and administrators eager for the latest experiences, ideas and insights in urban cultural policy.