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Counterpoints

Symbol of masculine power? The mosque in Wangen, Switzerland

Blond’s encyclical By Philip Booth

Many of David Cameron’s favourite phrases— such as “a big society not a big state”—have been inspired by the new phenomenon, Phillip Blond. Although an Anglican, Blond himself claims Catholic social teaching, and particularly the Pope’s recent encyclical, for his cause, but Catholics should be wary of erring towards Cameron for this reason alone. Many Catholics will be suspicious of the encroaching power of the state, but Blond’s own particular philosophy is not the only way to address that. Indeed, in Caritas in veritate, the Pope repeated what has been said many times in the last 40 years in official Church documents: that the Catholic Church has no economic models to offer, only a critique of certain issues in the context of our times and the teaching of the Church. There is plenty of room for argument about how the state should once again become subservient to individuals, families and the institutions of civil society; not all Catholics will be comfortable with Cameron’s belief that it is for the state to “remake society”.

There are many reasons to dissent from Blond’s basic premises – as far as they can be understood. His economics and economic history seem patchy, at best. He does not like the supermarkets “squeezing out competition”. But he confuses “bigness” with “monopoly”. Tesco is less monopolistic than the sole proprietor pork butcher in my childhood village, whom Blond would admire. Tesco is big and competitive in a big market; the pork butcher was small and monopolistic in a small market. Yes, small shops may close down if people prefer Tesco—but that is competition.

Blond argues that the free market has destroyed mutuality in the financial sector, but this goes against all serious academic study. Mutuality and community organisations in finance have been pushed out by state regulation (a story that starts in 1850, not 1979 as Blond supposes). No doubt both Blond and Cameron would laud the 19th-century development of stock exchanges—mutual clubs with their own rule systems and strong ethos. These were purely private organisations,

many of the functions of which were eventually taken over by the state.

Blond may be right to argue that some recent freemarket economists have been too narrow in their thinking, but that is not a reason for him to ignore those with richer insights into the very matters about which he speaks. To paraphrase Harold Macmillan’s observation about the Liberals in the 1950s: Blond has many sound and original policies. Unfortunately the original ones are not sound and the sound ones are not original.

Towers of silence By Berenika Stefanska

The widespread outrage at the result of the Swiss referendum on banning new minarets is misdirected. Like the man in the old joke who was looking for his lost keys where the pavement was best lit and not where he had dropped them, international public opinion directs its condemnation not where it is due but where it feels safe.

The obvious scapegoat is the purported Swiss rightwing extremism and “Islamophobia”. Those who voted against more minarets are pictured as xenophobic, intolerant or, at best, ignorant. It is uncomfortable to consider their motives and possibly arrive at the conclusion that they are not all that sinister. In the context of this witch-hunt it is sobering to present the arguments of a Swiss feminist, Julia Onken. It was her last-minute email campaign that helped to swing the vote in favour of the ban.

Onken, the author of best-selling psychology books, is not your typical flag-waving nationalist, yet she chose to support the anti-minaret campaign. While her assertion that “the minarets are masculine symbols of power” was widely ridiculed by the Swiss and international press, the concerns underlying it are serious. Her principal concern is the patriarchal nature of shariah, which makes Swiss Muslim women second-rate citizens in their own country. For Onken, minarets are a symbol of the state’s acquiescence in the barbaric practices to which some Muslim women are still subjected, such as honour killings, forced marriage or domestic confinement. As long as these stand, minarets should not.

But why strike at the minarets? Onken’s answer is: because we cannot strike at anything else. Paradoxically, the liberal discourse of the open society has become so dominant that it stifles all dissenting views. It has become impossible, she believes, to speak up about encroaching patriarchy and the oppression of Muslim women without being branded as a xenophobe.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, the only European leader publicly to embrace the Swiss vote, called on all religions to respect the “social and civic pact”.

The Swiss vote is not an expression of ignorance or intolerance but of a powerful need to be heard on the part of those who are worried about the changing nature of their societies. The outrage, therefore, should not be directed at the voters. Instead, it should be directed at those who force multiculturalism on society without regard to the attitudes of the wider public and without considering their legitimate concerns.

We cannot defend the rights of one group by limiting the rights of others. We are not going to give Muslim women a voice by taking it away from the muezzin. Yet we can take the referendum result for exactly what it is: not a far-Right victory, but a cri de coeur of all those who feel ignored and silenced in their own countries in the name of political correctness.

Standpoint

10

January/February 2010