Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Swiss Vote (culture differences in the news 4)

The Swiss vote banning minarets is not at all surprising, when you consider: 1) Swiss culture scores 58 on Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) in research; 2) the campaign against the minarets portrayed the "invasion" of Muslims as a terrible threat, mimicking the style of Nazi propaganda against Jews, and the reaction was "a vote of fear" (in the words of the French foreign minister); 3) research shows that the Swiss score low on Power Distance and high on Individualism, meaning they tend towards decentralized government and are resentful of any federal government initiatives, which they tend to see as an interference on local autonomy. Since the federal government was against the minaret ban, the natural attitude of the population majority was to be in favor of it, expressing their counter-dependence to federal authority; 4) research data also show the Swiss culture as being "normative" and focused on "what you are not allowed to do", so a ban is always quite appealing; 5) research shows the Swiss strongly valuing performance over caring for others, so the appeal about "freedom of faith" falls on deaf ears: it's about working hard and conforming to the norm, the rest is less important.
The polls prior to the vote painted a different picture. Most respondents said they would vote against the ban. This is misleading when the issue at stake is discrimination. As demonstrated during the presidential election in the US, people who discriminate do not admit in polls that this is what they do. There is a fear of expressing their discriminatory attitude in polls, because they fear being discriminated against for expressing an "anti-social" attitude. So people lie in polls and discriminate when voting. It happened in the US, it happened in Switzerland. There seems to be a "Swiss Connection" emerging with the US.
A huge debate has been revived all over Europe about discrimination. The findings of Hofstede's research (culture changes very little, very slowly, over centuries) are again confirmed: there was strong discrimination in many parts of Europe, a century ago. There still is. The irony is that, previously, it was against the Jews. Now, it is against the Muslims. Jesus Christ would be ashamed of these "false Christians" who are so hateful and intolerant of their brothers.
Moderates and advocates of freedom should not be silent or indifferent to what is happening. The silence of moderates allowed the rise of Nazism and Fascism almost a century ago. Let's not allow that tragedy to be enacted once again.
Fear breeds on ignorance. Stereotypes breed on ignorance. We need to foster knowledge, information, education, learning, interaction. Those are the only ways to avoid a slippery slide towards destruction and chaos. We need to promote cross-cultural understanding and build bridges across cultures. A bridge has just been bombed in Switzerland; let's re-build it.

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