David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Miss Manners’ Guide to Democracy


Every European country is in the throes of dealing with the Muslim minority that is settling in its midst. At this point nobody knows whether accommodation is possible, or on what terms. Looking back on the civil war in the England of the 1640s, the great philosopher David Hume concluded that democracy in the last resort rests on good manners. Among Europeans, the Swiss have set an example of manners that allow different ethnicities and religions to live peacefully in a single nation state.

The number of Muslims in Switzerland has now risen to about 400,000, or five percent of the population. There are at least 300 Muslim associations in the country, and with them comes friction. Geneva already had a mosque, for example, and the City Fathers were prepared to grant permission for a second one only when a church could be built reciprocally in Saudi Arabia. The Swiss flag has an emblematic white cross at its center, and Muslims have called for its removal on the grounds that it offends multiculturalism. 

The Swiss People’s Party is on one side of such issues. At a conference a few months ago, one of its members of parliament had a pie thrown in his face for speaking about “a certain religious dogma” alien to everything Swiss. A referendum in 2009 passed the banning of minarets on future mosques and the wearing of burqas looks like being banned as well. 

The major Muslim associations for their part want to set up a Muslim parliament, to be called Umma Schweiz — Umma being the Arabic for the worldwide Muslim collective. This is intended to be a legislative body parallel to the Swiss parliament, and operating on principles of Sharia law. It is very bad manners even to raise the prospect of what would be a big step in colonialism.

Swiss national independence is celebrated in the story of William Tell and his rebellion against tyranny. It so happens that Rossini’s heroic opera about Tell is being currently staged in Zurich. The tyrant’s soldiers march under the twelve star banner of the European Union, another collective that bullies Switzerland and pressures it to change its ways and become a member. To my knowledge, it is the first time that the European Union has been openly represented anywhere as a militarized tyranny, and this response to another set of very bad manners is therefore also a portent. Lots of students unexpectedly entered the auditorium to join in singing Rossini’s final great chorus in praise of the Swiss nation. 

The moral of the story is that David Hume had an important insight: Good manners will always determine democracy.



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