Sunday, November 29, 2009

Swiss Nix Minarets

With its clear blue lakes, craggy snow-capped mountains and quaint villages, to many Americans there are few places more quintessentially European than Switzerland. Another American perception of Europe is that it is a liberal, obsessively politically-correct place. That makes the apparent passage of a referendum in Switzerland banning the construction of minarets all the more interesting.

Minarets are to mosques what spires are to cathedrals. And that's the problem that many on the Swiss political right have with them, or as one of the "Stop Minarets" campaign leaders, Ulrich Schueler put it: "This minaret is a symbol of conquest and power which marks the will to introduce Sharia law as has happened in some other European cities. We will not accept that." In the past few years several new mosques, complete with minarets, have been built in Switzerland. A request to build one in the small city of Langenthal, already home to 11 churches, seems to have sparked the ban the minarets campaign.

The minaret ban made it onto Swiss ballots after supporters collected the 100,000 signatures necessary to put it to a vote under Swiss law. The ban though wasn't expected to pass, a poll just last week showed 53% of the Swiss planning to vote against it. But exit polls available shortly after the polls closed indicated the ban passing comfortably with 59% of voters saying yes. And that result has many other Swiss worried.

Some Swiss feel that the ban goes against ideas of equality and inclusion that are at the core of Swiss identity, others have more practical concerns - that the ban could harm Swiss business interests in the Muslim world. Still others were upset at the racial overtones of the campaign. The anti-minaret campaign poster - featuring a burka-clad woman and minarets that looked like missiles - was even banned as offensive in some cities. And finally, the success of the ban campaign can be seen as another sign of the growing clout of right-wing, nationalistic political parties across Europe.
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