Switzerland votes to ban minarets
HUI MIN NEO
November 30, 2009 - 5:49AM
Switzerland on Sunday voted to impose a blanket ban on the building of minarets across the country, backing an initiative by far-right politicians.
A clear majority of 57.5 percent of the population and 22 out of 26 cantons voted to ban the towers or turrets attached on mosques from where Muslims are called to prayer.
Far-right politicians celebrated the results, while the government sought to assure the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture."
The Swiss People's Party (SVP) -- Switzerland's biggest party -- had forced a referendum under Swiss regulations on the issue after collecting 100,000 signatures within 18 months from eligible voters.
Having won a double majority -- both in terms of cantons and absolute numbers, the initiative will now be inscribed in the country's constitution.
"The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted," said the government, which had firmly opposed the ban, in a statement.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the result "reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies."
"These concerns have to be taken seriously... However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies," she stressed.
She also sought to reassure the Muslim population, saying: "Today's popular decision is only directed against the construction of new minarets.
"It is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. Of that, the Federal Council gives its assurance."
But the Muslim community, which makes up 400,000 out of 7.5 million people in Switzerland, was dismayed.
"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," said Farhad Afshar, who heads the Coordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland.
The Christian community also expressed dismay, saying it was "inadmissible that the religious minority now have to subject to unequal treatment."
For Amnesty International, the minaret ban is a "violation of religious freedom, incompatible with the conventions signed by Switzerland."
"The initiators (of the referendum) have unfortunately managed to exploit fears towards Islam and stirred up xenophobic sentiments, it's regrettable," said Daniel Bolomey, who heads the Swiss chapter of the rights group.
Meanwhile, SVP Vice-President Yvan Perrin cheered the fact that his party had won the vote "without difficulty."
He told Radio Suisse Romande that Swiss companies should not worry about suffering from a possible backlash from Muslim countries.
"If our companies continue to make good quality products, they have nothing to worry about," he said.
Noting that the Swiss had made their decision after fervent debate on the issue, he said: "We won respectably."