Religious and political leaders criticise Swiss ban on minarets

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Minaret in Switzerland
Image: Charles Bösiger.

Religious and political leaders from around the world have criticised the ban on building minarets as part of the Swiss referendum held in November.

Leaders from the Vatican and the Muslim community around the world have deplored the vote as an attack on religious freedom. The Swiss government has also expressed shame at the result, and expects repercussions from Muslim countries with which it does business. Some politicians from other countries, however, defended the ban.

The co-president of the European Greens-European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, has already called upon Muslims to withdraw their funds from Swiss banks, echoed by warnings from Turkish State Minister Egemen Bagis, chief negotiator in European Union accession talks, who said in an interview with the Hürriyet that "I am certain this [the vote] will prompt our brothers from Muslim countries who keep their money and investments in Swiss banks to review their decision," he said.

France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that the ban revealed "intolerance" and called for it to be reversed. "If you are not allowed to build minarets, that means that religion is being oppressed," he said.

Reaction from some Muslim leaders was even stronger. "This is the hatred of Swiss people against Muslim communities. They do not want to see a Muslim presence in their country and this intense dislike has made them intolerant," said Maskuri Abdillah, head of Indonesia's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa called the ban an insult to all Muslims. "This proposal […] is not considered just an attack on freedom of beliefs, but also an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland," he said

The Swiss Government—which had opposed the vote—attempted to reassure Muslims that "this is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture," with the Conference of Swiss Bishops saying that it "heightens the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures."

Amnesty International, along with other rights organisations, stated that the result of the vote meant that religious freedom, as codified in the European Convention on Human Rights, was no longer ensured, and the Swiss Green Party is considering bringing the matter up at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Reaction from France and Germany was more nuanced, with the French leading political party's spokesman Xavier Bertrand saying that he was "not sure that minarets are needed in order to practise Islam in France", and Germany's Wolfgang Bosbach calling criticism unconstructive; he said that there was fear of Islamisation "and this fear must be taken seriously."

Some right-wing groups in France, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands called the vote a success of the people against the elite and for other countries to undertake similar steps. France's National Front said that the "elites should stop denying the aspirations and fears of the European people, who, without opposing religious freedom, reject ostentatious signs that political-religious Muslim groups want to impose," with Italy's Northern League adding "Switzerland is sending us a clear signal: yes to bell towers, no to minarets."