Switzerland's decision to ban the construction of minarets in a referendum on Sunday has drawn condemnation from politicians across Europe and from Muslim leaders, but far-right politicians have welcomed it as a courageous step that should be copied by other countries.
Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country's top cleric, called the ban an "insult" to Muslims across the world but called on Muslims not to be provoked by the move. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was shocked by the decision which showed "intolerance."
However right-wing and far-right parties such as Italy's Northern League in Italy and France's National Front were quick to welcome the decision. The right-wing populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is famous for his anti-Islam views, called the result "great" and said he would push for a similar referendum in the Netherlands.
More than 57.5 percent of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons voted in favor of the ban on Sunday. The initiative was brought by supporters of the right-wing Swiss People's Party and a smaller party. The campaign's organizers had argued that minarets are a symbol of a Muslim quest to dominate others and to introduce Shariah law, and that banning them would help stop an "Islamization" of Switzerland. Muslims make up around 5 percent of the Swiss population.
In Germany, Wolfgang Bosbach, the spokesman on domestic security for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, said the vote expressed a fear of Islamization that also exists in Germany. "One has to take this concern seriously," Bosbach told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.
German media commentators writing in the Monday editions of Germany's main newspapers said the decision reflects more than a fear of Islamization. The vote, they write, is a sign of how unsettled Switzerland has become in the last two decades that have seen its self-confidence shaken by the collapse of national economic symbols such as the airline Swissair, international criticism of its secretive banking system and setbacks in its foreign policy.
But mass circulation Bild, which can claim to have its finger on the nation's pulse more than other newspapers, said Germans would probably vote the same way if they were allowed a referendum on the issue:
"The minaret isn't just the symbol of a religion but of a totally different culture. Large parts of the Islamic world don't share our basic European values: the legacy of the Enlightenment, the equality of man and woman, the separation of church and state, a justice system independent of the Bible or the Koran and the refusal to impose one's own beliefs on others with 'fire and the sword.' Another factor is likely to have influenced the Swiss vote: Nowhere is life made harder for Christians than in Islamic countries. Those who are intolerant themselves cannot expect unlimited tolerance from others."
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"The referendum is a disaster for Switzerland. There is no such construction ban anywhere else in Europe. When those six words 'the construction of minarets is prohibited' are written into the Swiss constitution, they will breach that constitution in several ways, as they violate its guarantee of freedom of religion and the ban on discrimination.
"The ban also constitutes a flagrant breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It won't take long before someone affected by this ban takes the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which will result in an embarrassing condemnation and possibly Switzerland's expulsion from the Council of Europe.
"There will be a storm of outrage, especially in the Muslim world. The worst mistake now would be for Switzerland to react by stiffening its stance. Because in its heart, this country is cosmopolitan and liberal."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The Swiss decision gives the wrong answer to the right question. The question concerning all European societies is how to find the right way to deal with a growing Muslim minority, and where the limits of tolerance should be regarding the practice of traditions that are in some cases backward.
"The referendum has provided an excessively simplistic answer. It condemns the minaret which it interprets as a symbol of Islamic power -- as if the traditional architectural feature so closely related to the Christian church steeple were more important than what is preached inside the mosques.
"It throws Switzerland back behind the level of enlightenment and tolerance that Europe has toiled to attain in the past -- and which turned multi-ethnic Switzerland into such a successful model.
"The referendum shows how deep the fear of Islam runs in Europe and that the issue isn't being taken seriously enough by the political elite -- and not just in Switzerland. But it doesn't provide a solution to Europe's pressing integration problems."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Fundamentally democratic, cosmopolitan, tolerant -- that's how the Swiss always liked to see themselves. But with the vote to ban further minarets, the country has also shown other traits that smack of narrow-mindedness, fear and the desire to wall themselves in.
"Many Muslims in Switzerland have integrated themselves well. The problems that do exist can't be solved with a ban on minarets. But the Swiss People's Party has succeeded in broadening the issue to Islamization. Existing problems with immigrants from Kosovo, for example, were simply combined with the religion issue."
The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The campaign was targeted at a Swiss population that has felt increasingly unsettled since the end of the Cold War. Switzerland, which according to official myth is 'neutral' but which is de facto aligned with NATO, hasn't come to terms with the loss of the communist bogeyman as well as the members of the Western alliance have. From compensation claims for the theft of the assets of Jewish refugees by Swiss banks, to the recent softening of banking secrecy for foreign tax evaders -- all corrections of obvious historical lies and foreign policy mistakes since 1989 took place not through a realization of wrongdoing on the part of Switzerland itself, but through pressure from outside."
"In addition, the collapse of Swissair and other objects of Swiss national pride was also painful, as was the humiliating treatment by Libya's dictator Moammar Gadhafi who has been holding two Swiss nationals as hostages for more than a year. The global economic crisis has also left clear marks on Switzerland.
"The perfectly devised campaign for a ban on minarets provided a suitable bogeyman for those who were unsettled by this general uncertainty and whose self-confidence has been shattered. Encouraged by their victory on Sunday, the initiators will next call for a ban on mosques and Islamic cultural centers. It is also to be feared that there will be more frequent acts of violence against such institutions."
-- David Crossland
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