No ivory towers in Switzerland

There's a prevailing feeling in the liberal areas of the United States - especially the college campuses - that thinks everything is better in Europe. They have health care! They have money that's worth nearly twice ours! Good food! (Mostly) stable politics! And progressivism. And this, and that, ad nauseam.

And yet, Europe is not nearly as progressive as we with our rosy glasses like to think. This week, voters in Switzerland decided to ban the construction of minarets.

This is frankly shocking. The xenophobia behind this decision is clearly evident: the Swiss are keeping the Muslims down, man.

Imagine something like this in the U.S. For example, the government doesn't want to let Catholics build any more churches because they don't like Catholics. Or, more realistically, unfortunately, the government bans Muslims from building mosques … because Muslims aren't welcome … because of Sept. 11.

In fact, there are probably a lot of people reading this who are nodding their heads. Yes, they're thinking, bloody good job, Switzerland. Maybe we should pass legislation like that here…

No, we shouldn't. In fact, nobody should. This is a stark reminder that democracy is not perfect, that it doesn't necessarily reflect all the important people in society - just the frightened majority who, in the case of the Swiss, were swayed by a rather impassioned public relations campaign by the Swiss conservative party, reported the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. The referendum, which was nearly universally expected to fail, passed with almost twice the votes needed. But why?

Probably for the same reason Jim Crow laws came into effect in America after the Civil War, or the reason the Japanese were placed in internment camps following Pearl Harbor: the Europeans are afraid of the growing power of an ever-increasing immigrant Muslim population in their states.

This has hard-hitting implications at home. There are many Americans who don't trust Muslims, Mexicans or really anyone who happens to cross the border and is unable to speak English well. We're afraid of change, we're afraid of terrorism and, at least some of us, are afraid of tacos and prayer mats. They're foreign and thus, unwelcome.

We need to remind ourselves, before our fear of foreign incursion reaches the apparent fever pitch of that of the Swiss, that America is a nation of immigrants. Most of the people here are descended from those who made a long perilous journey across the ocean and were mostly met with derision and acrimonious action by those who had made a similar journey, but had come even earlier.

Remember the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese and the Africans, brought here by famine or slavers or the promise of a better life and remember that the last, the promise of a better life, has always been the draw, the legacy, of these United States.

Let's not be afraid of the current wave of immigrants the way the Swiss are. Here, we take anyone and let them make something of themselves, forever. Remember Emma Lazarus, and let's not hate those who are different.

In