Swiss voters ban minarets

By Laura Haime
Published: December 2009

On Sunday, November 29, resentment toward the growing population of Muslims in Switzerland encouraged Swiss voters to ban minarets, an architectural feature of the Islamic mosque.

Consequently, the ban prevents further construction of any mosque within the country. The ban was passed by a majority of 57 percent, which tarnished the image of tolerance and civilization that the country has taken pride in for so many years.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) initiated the referendum after residents opposed the construction of a minaret in Langenthal, north of Berne.

Oskar Freysinger, an SVP politician, defended his decision: “In no case does this impinge on religious freedom, this has nothing to do with the practice of religion. Muslims in Switzerland are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others and live according to their beliefs just as before.

Conservative Swiss politicians argued that the minarets do not have religious characteristics and they only symbolize a political-religious claim to power.

The Muslim residents of Switzerland currently make up 6 percent of the Swiss population. Europe’s Muslim population doubled in the last 30 years, and Switzerland has expressed deep concern over the growing numbers.

Other organizations reacted very differently from the SVP. Khurshid Ahmad, the vice president of a Pakistani, Islamic political party, described the Swiss decision as a serious violation of human rights and international law. “This is an effort to provoke Muslims and prompt a clash between Islam and the West, Khurshid said.

Many European Muslims expressed concern that Muslims living in Islamic countries could be less familiar with European politics and culture. “We are a bit afraid of the rise of extremism on both sides, Ayman Ali, secretary general of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe said.

A French teacher at South, Meg Weston, traveled to Switzerland during her teenage years. Weston’s recollection of her experience consists of only positive memories.
She expressed disbelief inresponse to the minaret ban and insists that the decision misrepresented the Swiss people. “(The ban) does not coincide with the Switzerland I know, Weston said.

Since the ban, the Swiss have suffered greatly on a business level. Business leaders confess that “Swiss Made, the most trusted brand in the world, is at stake. The president of the Swiss Business Federation, Gerold Bührer, reminded the country that Muslim countries contribute £10 billion to Swiss companies yearly.

Other European countries condemned Switzerland for its decision, even though anti-Islamic laws have been proposed in many of those countries. In France, for example, the government has considered a law that would affect the way Muslim women dress, arguing that it only encourages Muslims to assimilate.

Similarly, the United States cannot freely criticize Switzerland’s new law without submitting to hypocrisy. Weston advises us to consider the United States’ history regarding immigration.
“(The ban) is a very negative thing. But let’s remember how we have tried to keep people out of our country too, she said. “We created quotas for immigrants and often wouldn’t even employ those who were able to enter our country.

Aside from negative reactions to the ban from other countries, Swiss citizens have also expressed disgrace and disappointment in their country. On November 30, about 300 people protested outside the Parliament building in Berne. In front of a model of a minaret they held up signs saying: “This is not my Switzerland. Many protesters pinned papers to their jackets that stated “Swiss passport for sale.

Amnesty International attempts to calm the protesters as they assure that either the Swiss Supreme Court or the European Court of Human Rights will overturn the vote, regardless of the majority win in the referendum.

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