Swiss ban mosque minarets in surprise vote

The referendum by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party labelled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation.

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 Swiss have failed to give a clear signal for diversity, freedom of religion and human rights,” said Omar Al Rawi, integration representative of the Islamic Denomination in Austria, which said its reaction was “grief and deep disappointment.”

The referendum by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party labelled minarets as symbols of rising Muslim political power that could one day transform Switzerland into an Islamic nation. The initiative was approved 57.5 to 42.5 percent by some 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 comprise 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 practices their 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 sponsors of the initiative provoked complaints of bias from local officials and human-rights group with campaign posters that showed minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag next to a fully veiled woman. Backers said the growing Muslim population was straining the country “because Muslims don’t just practice religion.”

“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 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 in 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 organisation. “A constitutional amendment that’s targeted towards one religious community is discriminatory and abhorrent.”

He said he was concerned the decision could have reverberations in other European countries.

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.

It said that “Muslims in Switzerland are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others, and live according to their beliefs just as before.” It took the unusual step of issuing its press release in Arabic as well as German, French, Italian and English.

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.

“The sponsors of the ban have achieved something everyone wanted to prevent, and that is to influence and change the relations to Muslims and their social integration in a negative way,” said Taner Hatipoglu, president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Zurich. “Muslims indeed will not feel safe anymore.”

The People’s Party has campaigned mainly unsuccessfully in previous years against immigrants with campaign posters showing white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag and another with brown hands grabbing eagerly for Swiss passports.

Geneva’s main mosque was vandalised Thursday when someone threw a pot of pink paint at the entrance. Earlier this month, a vehicle with a loudspeaker drove through the area imitating a muezzin’s call to prayer, and vandals damaged a mosaic when they threw cobblestones at the building.

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3 comments

  1. This is indeed a tragedy. The Swiss nation in doing so have gone against their very basic values of tolerance and neutrality (Remember they were an island of peace amidst the two great wars that engulfed the West not very long ago) by giving in to their hardliners and I am sure that many a right-thinking Swiss man or woman will realise the inherent injustice of this move. But this will also call for some action on our part, but not violent action !

    Violent protests such as that which took place in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon crisis are likely to be counter-productive as it will only add to the fear-mongering already created in the Jewish-controlled media that Muslims are out to radically change their way of life and stifle their freedoms. Of course we could resort to less radical means such as boycotting Swiss products and hurt them where it hurts them most- their pockets ! But then again what good would it do to change the western public perception about Islam. Nay more can be done, but firstly we should know where to hit by winning their hearts and minds by portraying Islam in a favourable light. But this can only be done by using the media, a method we have largely ignored all this while in our arrogance and misplaced belief that we can always get things done by shouting religious slogans or by might of arms.

    We have only to look at the skillful manner in which our enemies, the right-wingers and the Jews have put the media to use to sway the minds of the masses and promote their evil agendas. How else could they have managed to convince both their governments and people to look at us Muslims in an unfavourable light and even effect anti-Islamic legislation. Simple- they have recognized the importance of the media and how to put it to good use. One has only to see how they made ample use of Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s poem: “The Mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the believers our soldiers” to portray the minarat as a symbol of militant Islam. This in spite of the fact that the Turks are a level-headed people who know how to practice their faith properly without antagonizing anybody and that this poem like most poems has to be taken metaphorically.

    The sponsors of the resolution had further claimed that the minaret is a sign of Islamic power comparable with “tolerance of forced marriages and genital mutilation of girls” which again shows to what extent the right-wingers have managed to portray Islam as an evil and misogynist faith. But then again who are we to blame but ourselves for not countering such malicious propaganda by using the media or building the capacity to use it for our own good, and again who are we to blame but ourselves when we know that some of what they say actually takes place in certain Muslim societies and we have done nothing about it, nay not spoken a word against it or condemned it as unislamic !

    For instance, take the issue of forced marriages. We know this still takes place in certain Muslim societies such as Afghanistan despite the fact that it has no place in Islam which was probably the first religion that really recognized that a woman actually had a choice in the matter of her marriage (Judaism did not recognize this and Christianity also originally did not as it only came as a supplement to the Old Testament to the lost flock of Israel though later it did thanks to the more egalitarian attitude towards women most Christians had when compared to the Jews). What is so paradoxical about all this is that western countries such as the UK have had to establish special units to ensure that Muslim girls having their origins in countries such as Pakistan are not forced into marriages against their will. It seems here that it has now come to a situation where the west has had to implement the Islamic rule requiring the consent of women rather than leaving it to their families who cannot be trusted on this matter given some few instances of forced marriage that have surfaced in the media – of course a biased media which has blown it out of proportion and made it seem like Muslims habitually marry off their daughters without their consent. Little wonder the sponsors of the Swiss resolution made use of this issue. The western Jewish-controlled media had already laid the groundwork for them, but again what did we do about it. Did we really ever embark on a concerted effort in the media to show that if any religion recognized that women had a say in their marriages, it was Islam. Nay, we did n’t and here we betrayed our faith.

    Then take the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation, ostensibly with a view to curbing female sexual desire which is still known to take place in certain Muslim countries such as Egypt. That the sponsors of the Swiss resolution should have also made use of this issue shows how negatively this practice as it takes place in some Muslim communities today is perceived in the west. I do not wish to dispute that there is something called female circumcision in Islam; there probably is given what some of the greatest scholars of Islam have to say about it. but it is agreed by all of them that this is a minor procedure comparable to male circumcision involving the removal of only the prepuce or skin covering the clitoris and not the barbaric mutilation involving the removal of the clitoris which is vital for female sexual stimulation that commonly takes place in some Muslim communities. The least we could have done at the time many western countries such as the UK and France were considering outlawing it was to put the record straight and explain the proper position to the media and the authorities concerned, even dwelling upon the fact that many western women were opting for it as a form of elective surgery under the name of hoodectomy to improve genital cleanliness and indeed enhance, not diminish, their sex lives. But alas no, we failed in our duty to explain the proper position to the media and to the authorities and some of these countries lost no time banning it, and banning it under the presumption that that they had finally managed to ban a practice that had an Islamic basis.

    Then came other issues such as the issue of Muslim headscarves and niqab, initially in France and later in the rest of Europe, trivial non-issues really that were blown up by the western right-wing backed by the Jewish-controlled media and made into issues. Here again we failed in properly combating their evil designs by making a concerted effort to employ the media and show that the Muslim headscarf or niqab was a matter of choice of the women concerned and that there was no compulsion in it. The West is renowned for its recognition of free choice in almost every matter and how come they had now suddenly decided that a woman had no choice in the matter of her dress. How come people in the west who disfigure themselves horribly by tattooing and piercing themselves in the most unpalatable fashion (e.g the well known lizard man who looks more lizard than man after numerous tattooings and implants) freely walk on the streets despite their hideous appearances and are indeed admired, while a Muslim woman who covers herself decently is victimized on account of what she freely chooses to wear. Again, the habit of a Christian nun is very similar to the Muslim headscarf and indeed Mother Mary is portrayed wearing one. So how come one is respected and the other is punished for it ? This is the manner in which we Muslims should have approached the matter instead of showing cowardice by taking it off or showing defiance by shouting religious slogans.

    And now the minarat, an innocuous enough edifice has become the target and again we protest but what use will it be to counter the right wing Jewish-inspired propaganda that has already taken hold of the minds of the western masses.

    Nay, there is a way and that is to recognize the importance of the media as a tool for social change and for the propagation of the faith. Let us cast aside our assumptions and presumptions about the west and their attitudes towards us and rather attempt to win them over to our side by portraying Islam as the way for them. Talk about the rights Islam gives to non-Muslims, to women and even to dumb animals and not just confine it to theology. Talk about the spiritual dimension, peace of mind and contentment that Islam gives to those who live it. Talk about what notable men such as Goethe and Napoleon have had to say about Islam. In other words, talk about Islam in a manner the west understands it best. Then perhaps we will see a difference. To do this we have to build and enhance the capacity of our media institutions and indeed the thinking capacity of our youth to get the message across to the lost flock of the west in a meaningful manner. We don’t need arms for winning this war in this day and age. What we need is to cultivate the art of winning hearts and this we can do with the media and well balanced young people trained to manage the effort properly. Let us recognize its potential and set about this mission now before it is too late. It is probably already late, but then again where there’s life, there’s hope, and if we trust in God and do our best, there’s always hope.

  2. AlhamduLillah UN has condemned the stand taken by Swiss. We should do our part in our small way. Boycott all Swiss products

  3. This should be distressing news for any Muslim. What harm can a minaret do to any human being? Islamophobia is doubtless part of the explanation for the vote. The other part could be extreme Islam – the article mentions the burqa, genital mutilation of females, and forced marriages. The answer to Islamophobia and negative images of Islam in the West is for moderate Islam to assert itself vigorously against the extremists-

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