Monday, November 30, 2009

The Intolerant Neutral Planet

The recent, blatantly racist Swiss vote banning the building minarets is upsetting, but, to me, not surprising at all. This is coming from a country where the ruling party's banners featured three white sheep kicking a black sheet off a Swiss flag with the words "For our security" under it. Although, as a non-white person, I have been subjected to subtle racism before, Switzerland is the only place where I experienced overt racism and the only place where I felt uncomfortable.
Here's my experience. A few years ago, I was at a conference in Germany and afterwords, since I'm into mountain climbing, I decided to make a short trip to Switzerland. I took the train from Frankfurt to Basel and an hour before we got to the Swiss border, I see three border guards enter my train car, talk into their radios and headed straight to me (the only brown person in the car). They asked for my passport. I showed it to them. They then asked to search my bags. Went through both my bags. I had a poster from the conference and they asked to open the tube and took out the poster (tearing it in the process). They then asked why I am going to Switzerland, for how long, who I'm staying with, whether I'm looking for a job, what kind of work I do, etc. They asked me to prove to them how long I'm planning on staying in Switzerland. I wasn't sure how to do this. Eventually, showing a print out of my return flight worked. After 45 min, they let me go and left (no questions to anyone else in the full car). Meanwhile, the entire train is staring at me (the presumed terrorist).
Things didn't improve once I got to Switzerland. Everywhere I went, I got a suspicious look. Especially in stores (every store), where the employees followed me throughout the store (to make sure I wasn't stealing anything, I guess). I started playing a game with them, where I would walk around in circles in the store and watch them follow me, to see how many laps I could make them do.
I was surprised that a country that I've always seen as so benign (so neutral) could be so hateful towards others. I suppose Switzerland's "neutralness" is really a manifestation of it's isolationism and xenophobia.

Zapp Brannigan:
With enemies you know where they stand but with Neutrals, who knows? It sickens me.

1 comment:

  1. I find that particularly interesting as Switzerland is sort of the hodgepodge of European nationalities and customs. One would think that they would be the most tolerant of all states. Of course, they were kind of bastards to my people back in the 40s...Obviously I had a completely different experience the several times that I was there, so it especially horrifies me to hear how terribly you were treated there. But it warms my heart that the oft-wrongly-demonized Germans ended up being a comparatively far more accepting people. That puts a smile on my face.

    And, tangentially, my favorite line from that Futurama episode has still got to be Zapp's line: "What makes a man turn neutral ... Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"