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PARIS (RNS) A Swiss vote to ban the construction of minarets at Muslim houses of worship sent ripples of surprise and dismay across Europe and Islamic countries Monday (Nov. 30), as opponents vowed to challenge the results.
“We are really sad — for ourselves and for Switzerland’s place in the world,” said Geneva Muslim leader Hafid Ourardiri, after 57.5 percent of Swiss voted in favor of the ban. “This is not good for our country — and Switzerland is our country.”
An estimated 400,000 Muslims call Switzerland home. Ourardiri, who heads the Muslim Council of Interknowing, a nonprofit aimed at promoting interfaith ties, said critics of the measure would file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
Sunday’s vote amounts to a major victory for the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., which had championed the ban on grounds minarets were unnecessary for worship and symbolized Islamic power.
“We have nothing against the building of mosques — it’s a private affair and it’s part of religious freedom,” said Oskar Freisinger, a senior member of the S.V.P. “But we don’t want Islam to interfere in our political or legal system.”
Critics fear the Swiss vote could trigger a furious backlash — even as far-right politicians in Europe say they are energized by the results.
“We’re faced with a real anti-Muslim campaign that has begun in Switzerland and which might spread elsewhere in Europe,” Kamel Kebtane, director of the mosque in Lyon, France, told France-Info radio. “Today it’s minarets, tomorrow it may be banning Muslims from practicing their faith.”
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was “scandalized”
by the results, while The Times of London newspaper called it a “destructive and pernicious decision.”
Prominent Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan urged Europeans to stand up against populist sentiments. “The Swiss majority are sending a clear message to their Muslim fellow citizens: we do not trust you, and the best Muslim for us is the Muslim we cannot see,” Ramadan wrote in a commentary in Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
In practical terms, the minaret ban will make little difference — at least for now. Switzerland only has four mosque minarets, none of which will be affected by the measure.
But far-right parties in Denmark and the Netherlands said they would push for similar legislation, while Marine Le Pen, a senior member of France’s anti-immigrant National Front party, said the Swiss vote reflected European fears of the region’s growing Muslim population.
The minaret ban is only the latest example of opposition to Islamic symbols in Europe. Efforts to build mosques have stalled in a number of European countries. In France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, the government banned girls from wearing headscarves in 2005 and is now mulling calls to ban women from wearing the face-covering niqab veil in public.
By Elizabeth Bryant
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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