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By Khadija Sharife

Charles G. Cogan: Kind Hearts and Minarets

President Nicolas Sarkozy had some kind words to say about the Swiss the other day, in the wake of the surprising referendum banning the future construction of minarets in the Confederation. The French intellectual class, in the main, however, jumped all over him. There are indeed some kind things to say about the Swiss. They are an example of an inter-cultural modus vivendi. Of the Confederation’s total population of 7.7 million, 72.5 percent are German speakers, 20.4 percent are French speakers, 6.5 percent speak Italian, and 0.5 percent are speakers of Romansh (an obscure Romance language). All four are recognized as national languages. The Swiss gladly accept husbanding others’ money. They also husband their immaculate and picturesque farmlands. Their cities are clean, well ordered, and well policed. They also don’t like outside interference. They have a sturdy, almost totally conscript army to back this up. In the late Middle Ages, Swiss soldiers were considered among the best warriors in Europe. Perhaps this might have something to with the fact that Switzerland has not been in a state of war since 1815. Recently, the Swiss image has become tarnished, as the country’s position as a tax shelter for the super-rich has been criticized during the recent recession, and as the emergence of a far-right party has exposed a streak of intolerance in Swiss public opinion. But back to the minarets, of which there are four currently in Switzerland, where the Muslim population is 400,000. By a strong majority (57.5 percent) in a November 29 referendum, the Swiss said there shall be no more. What exactly did President Sarkozy say that caused such a typically French intellectual dither? First, that a referendum (“yes or no”) was not a good medium for such a complex subject. (The recourse to the referendum, however, is constitutionally mandated in the Swiss Confederation). Second, that rather than rail against the Swiss, one should look deeper into the motivation behind the rejection vote. Third, and most saliently, Sarkozy noted that while no one is seeking to discourage the free practice of religion, Muslims should be aware of Europe’s Christian heritage and France’s Republican traditions and therefore should not be overly provocative, choosing rather to practice their faith with “humble discretion.”

David A. Andelman: Swiss Bear Arms...At a Medieval Wedding

Davis Andelman, EditorFRIBOURG, SWITZERLAND—This weekend, Cyrill and Maureen got married. It was a three-day affair, with medieval theme, each of the more than 400 guests wearing medieval garb, eating and drinking and carousing much as Swiss knights and their ladies (with a few monks and William Tells thrown in) might have done seven or eight centuries ago. But the ceremony and all that surrounded it was much more than that—a tribute to how far Switzerland and China, indeed Europe and Asia, have come in the days since Marco Polo first returned from the Orient in the year 1295 and brought back word of a mighty and mysterious kingdom on the other side of the world. Cyrill Eltschinger, it seems, is Swiss to the tips of his gauntlets, while Maureen Yeo is Chinese—tracing her lineage back five centuries or more. Cyrill and I first met last year after our books, Cyrill’s Source Code China: The New Global Hub of IT (Information Technology) Outsourcing and my own, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today were both published, two weeks apart, by Wiley, and we were invited to speak at the Outource World convention at New York’s Javits Center. I was then at Forbes, and Cyrill was and remains CEO of IT United, one of the leading information technology companies in China, and is based in Beijing where he first met Maureen three years ago. Some months after Cyrill and I had met at the Javits Center, having moved to World Policy Journal as editor, I received an e-mailed invitation to come to Fribourg and Neuchatel in June for their wedding. The only catch? We had to come garbed. Chain mail and a Swiss cavalier’s cap for me, two elegant gowns for my lady (aka wife Pamela). Fribourg itself, beyond being the hometown of Cyrill, was a totally appropriate spot for this unusual ceremony. It is a bilingual city divided down the middle by an invisible, but quite real line—the northern half lies in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland, the southern half in the French portion. France and Germany united again in the heart of Europe.



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