Switzerland under fire over minaret ban

1st December 2009, Comments 6 comments

Switzerland confronted an international backlash Monday in reaction to a vote to ban new minarets.

Geneva -- Switzerland confronted an international backlash and charges of intolerance on Monday as Islamic nations reacted with anger to a shock vote to ban new minarets.

The Vatican joined in expressions of dismay after Sunday's vote for a constitutional ban on the construction of towers attached to mosques, while the government moved to assure Muslims it was not a rejection of their religion.

Some 57.5 percent of those who cast ballots supported the measure amid a high turnout, by Swiss standards, of 53 percent.

There was harsh criticism in Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon and other Islamic countries while Pakistani religious groups condemned it as "extreme Islamophobia."

"Such an anachronistic referendum should not have been allowed to take place in these times," said Turkey's culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay.

The largest Muslim group in Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, condemned it as a manifestation of religious "hatred" but urged a restrained response.

"This is the hatred of Swiss people against Muslim communities," said Masykuri Abdillah, head of Nahdlatul Ulama which has 40 million members.

"They don't want to see a Muslim presence in their country and this intense dislike has made them intolerant," he told AFP.

The imam of Switzerland's biggest mosque, in Geneva, meanwhile called on the Muslim world to "respect, without accepting" the outcome and to avoid abandoning ties with Switzerland.

In an interview with AFP, Youssef Ibram nonetheless sharply criticised Swiss authorities for not intervening more forcefully in defence of religious freedom before the referendum began.

The message was echoed by Farhad Afshar, who heads the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.

"The most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote. Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community," he said.

Muslims account for just five percent of Switzerland's population of 7.5 million people, and form the third largest religious group after the dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant communities.

The result went against opinion polls that had predicted a 'no' vote and surprised government ministers who had opposed the ban alongside the majority of Switzerland's political and religious establishment.

The government rushed to assure the country's Muslims that the outcome was not a rejection of Muslim religion or culture, and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy Rey met ambassadors from Islamic countries to "explain."

Criticising the ban, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf acknowledged, however, that the result "reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies."

Members of the hard-right Swiss People's Party (SVP) -- Switzerland's biggest party -- and other right-wing groups had brought the referendum after petitioning 100,000 signatures from eligible voters.

Other European anti-immigrant parties sought to capitalise on the result, but it was largely condemned elsewhere in Europe.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the European Union presidency, called the vote "an expression of quite a bit of prejudice and maybe even fear" and "a negative signal in every way."

His French counterpart Bernard Kouchner criticised "an expression of intolerance."

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) warned the vote had the potential "to create tensions and generate a climate of intolerance against Muslims."

The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, said it raised concerns of whether fundamental individual rights that are protected by international treaties should be subject to popular vote.

Swiss newspapers warned that the referendum had inflicted "spectacular damage" to the country's international standing.

Le Temps newspaper said the vote had been "inspired by fear, fantasies and ignorance."

Switzerland has just four minarets as well as some 200 mosques, according to official sources.

The constitutional amendment only bans the construction of further minarets while a cornerstone of the Swiss constitution, the freedom of religious worship, is unchanged.

AFP / Peter Capella / Expatica

6 Comments To This Article

  • Regina posted:

    on 21st January 2010, 21:50:06 - Reply

    And this just in:

    "In Nigeria this week, Muslim youths set fire to a church, killing more than two dozen Christian worshippers. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been suffering increased persecution including, this month, a drive-by shooting outside a church in which seven people were murdered. In Pakistan, Christian churches were bombed over Christmas. In Turkey, authorities have been closing Christian churches, monasteries, and schools, and seizing Christian properties. Recently, churches in Malaysia have been attacked, too, provoked by this grievance: Christians inside the churches were referring to God as “Allah.” How dare infidels use the same name for the Almighty as do Muslims."

    I'm sick of the double standard.
  • David posted:

    on 20th January 2010, 20:18:57 - Reply

    This is only a ban on minarets, not on mosques. There is outrage from Islamic groups. How shocking. Where is the outrage that Jews cannot even pray let alone rebuild on their holiest site, the Temple Mount, in their holy city of Jerusalem without muslims stoning them? Where is the outrage over the muslims blowing up the historical ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan? Where is the outrage over the muslims destroying the Sikh Golden Temple? Where is the outrage over Armenian churches being destroyed or converted to mosques? Where is the outrage over muslims destruction of Egyptian Coptic Christians home, business and churches? What about the conversion of the Tejo Mahalaya, a Hindu temple palace now known as the Taj Mahal, to an Islamic shrine, or the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul converted to a mosque? Interesting how in muslim countries, a minaret is not required of a mosque. Muslims are the last people who should be lecturing others about intolerance.
  • Regina posted:

    on 2nd December 2009, 13:14:18 - Reply

    It's amazing to me that the people who are complaining about this ban on minarets don't make the same complaints against those Islamic countries that have banned not only the cross and crucifix but the actual building of churches, let alone synagogues. The bible is also banned as well in some Islamic countries. Muslims can still come to Switzerland, they can still carry their holy Koran, they can pray and they can continue to build mosques. This is Switzerland and the Swiss have the right to do what they want in their own country. There is a clear double standard and the Swiss have bravely called attention to this fact.
  • Will posted:

    on 2nd December 2009, 13:08:16 - Reply

    This has really damaged Switzerlands reputation I would say.
    I'd say that most of Europe now regard Switzerland as a xenophobic country. (Not all swiss ppl of course) It's too bad, I used to want to visit geneva.

    Greetings from a non-swiss.
  • saladin posted:

    on 2nd December 2009, 12:39:29 - Reply

    Very deep and clever comments Ron, constructive, neutral and beneficial to living together.

    Thank you for your valuable insight.
  • Ron posted:

    on 1st December 2009, 17:49:20 - Reply

    I believe Swiss voters made the right decision in banning further construction of minarets in their country. What the Swiss people have to ask themselves, though, is why Moslems were even allowed to enter Switzerland to begin with. Surely they knew that believers in Islam are bizarre and very dangerous creatures, whose presence in their country might spell its end as a civilized democracy. Hello Sharia law!...