After a debate that’s lasted several months, Swiss voters approved a ban on minarets on Sunday in a decision that shocked Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe.
57% of voters in the majority of Switzerland’s 27 cantons voted for the referendum, which was introduced by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) after residents opposed the construction of a minaret in Langenthal, north of Berne.
The SVP sponsored the measure arguing minarets “are symbols of a desire for power, of an Islam which wants to establish a legal and social order fundamentally contrary to the liberties guaranteed in our constitution.” (The Independent reports).
Though the government, business and most churches encouraged voters to turn down the ban, a majority of the 53% of Swiss citizens who voted went the other way.
Religious and political leaders around the world are condemning the referendum and expressing concern that it is a harbinger of harsher restrictions and increasing alienation of Muslims in Europe.
- “That Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance and the provision of refuge to the persecuted, should have accepted such a grotesquely discriminatory proposal is shocking,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s deputy program director for Europe and Central Asia (New York Times reports).
- “Europe could not triumph over Islam by taking down minarets and added that the right course of action should be supporting moderate elements within the Muslim community and cultivating dialogue between religions,” said Rabbi Aba Dunner of the Conference of European Rabbis (YNet News reports).
- “In stark contrast to the belief of Swiss voters that this initiative will stop radicalism and Islamisation, it is Malaysia’s belief that this decision will segregate Swiss Muslims from mainstream society, and will be a setback to global efforts to promote religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence,” said Foreign Minister Datuk Anifah Aman of Malaysia (Bernama reports)
- “Our fear is that the ban is going to further alienate a growing population of Muslims in Europe,” said Faiza Ali of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim-American group (SwissInfo reports).
And editorial writers and bloggers had much to say about the referendum:
- “Sunday’s vote, for all the hand-wringing leading up to it, was a decidedly mild-mannered sort of protest. The construction of new minarets is banned, but the building of mosques is unaffected, and the vote does not affect the four existing minarets in the country. Nobody’s freedom of worship is threatened, but a symbolic message has been sent” (Wall Street Journal).
- “The ban is also foolish in that it addresses the public’s fear of Islam as a repressive and freedom-rejecting tradition by repressing religious expression and stripping citizens of the right to worship freely! The irony is compounded in a nation so proud of it’s many churches, themselves often products of the ongoing reform of Christian tradition and themselves occasionally guilty of their own hostility to those of other faiths” (The Washington Post/On Faith).
Minarets symbolize the “gate from heaven and earth” and the act of pledging oneself to a higher cause. For some reason, the SVP has arbitrarily decided that the minaret is the latest symbol that represents Islamic extremism and separatism — traditionally, the burqa has gotten most of the heat (check out our old posts here and here on banning the burqa in France). If Swiss citizens are fearful of extremist tendencies, banning minarets hardly seems like the right solution to the problem (in fact, it may well be a counterproductive move). A better solution would be devising efforts on a local level to include Muslims in Swiss communities, making immigrants feel like welcomed members of their new country rather than alienated extremists.
Phew. Now for some other news.
- GOP Seen as Friendlier To Religion Than Democrats (a study from the PEW Forum)
- Undocumented Immigrants Scared to Seek Free Health Care Huffington Post
- Homeless individuals connect with God at retreats St.Louis Review
- Approaching holidays prompt atheist campaign NYTimes