- The Washington Times - Monday, November 30, 2009

GENEVA | Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets on Sunday, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise vote that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland’s international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

The referendum by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party labeled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. The initiative was approved 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent by about 2.67 million voters. Only four of the 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, granting the double approval that makes it part of the Swiss constitution.

Muslims make up about 6 percent of Switzerland’s 7.5 million people. Many are refugees from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, and about one in 10 actively practice the religion, the government says.

The country’s four standing minarets, which won’t be affected by the ban, do not traditionally broadcast the call to prayer outside their own buildings.

“The minaret is a sign of political power and demand, comparable with whole-body covering by the burqa, tolerance of forced marriage and genital mutilation of girls,” the sponsors of the ban said. They noted that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has compared mosques to Islam’s military barracks and called “the minarets our bayonets.”

Anxieties about growing Muslim minorities have rippled across Europe in recent years, leading to legal changes in some countries. There have been French moves to ban the full-length body covering known as the burqa. Some German states have introduced bans on head scarves for Muslim women teaching in public schools. Mosques and minaret construction projects in Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia have been met by protests.

But the Swiss ban on minarets, sponsored by the country’s largest political party, was one of the most extreme reactions.

“It’s a sad day for freedom of religion,” said Mohammed Shafiq, the chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a British youth organization. “A constitutional amendment that’s targeted towards one religious community is discriminatory and abhorrent.”

Amnesty International said the vote violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.

The seven-member Cabinet that heads the Swiss government had spoken out strongly against the initiative, but the government said it accepted the vote and would impose an immediate ban on minaret construction.

Sunday’s results stood in stark contrast to opinion polls, last taken 10 days ago, that showed 37 percent supporting the proposal. Experts said before the vote that they feared Swiss had pretended during the polling that they opposed the ban because they didn’t want to appear intolerant.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide