I just can’t wrap my head around this one.
The Swiss, who already guarantee freedom of religion in their constitution, passed a Constitutional ban on the construction of new minarets.
Somehow, some way, minarets were linked with political activism by the right wing in Switzerland.
In a vote that displayed a widespread anxiety about Islam and undermined the country’s reputation for religious tolerance, the Swiss on Sunday overwhelmingly imposed a national ban on the construction of minarets, the prayer towers of mosques, in a referendum drawn up by the far right and opposed by the government.
The referendum, which passed with a clear majority of 57.5 percent of the voters and in 22 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, was a victory for the right. The vote against was 42.5 percent. Because the ban gained a majority of votes and passed in a majority of the cantons, it will be added to the Constitution.
The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party had proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, leading to the referendum.
The Swiss government said it would respect the vote and sought to reassure the Muslim population — mostly immigrants from other parts of Europe, like Kosovo and Turkey — that the minaret ban was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the justice minister, said the result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies.”
While such concerns “have to be taken seriously,” she said in a statement, “The Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”
The primary purpose of a minaret is "to provide a vantage point from which the call to prayer (adhan) is made," according to Wikipedia. "Minarets also function as air conditioning mechanisms: as the sun heats the dome, air is drawn in through open windows then up and out of the minaret, thereby providing natural ventilation."
The secret to the success of this vote is the trashy campaign waged by the Swiss weird right. According to the NYTimes:
Campaign posters depicting a Swiss flag sprouting black, missile-shaped minarets alongside a woman shrouded in a niqab, a head-to-toe veil that shows only the eyes, starkly illustrated the determination of the right to play on deep-rooted fears that Muslim immigration would lead to an erosion of Swiss values.
In a recent televised debate, Ulrich Schlüer, a member of Parliament from the S.V.P., said minarets were a symbol of “the political will to take power” and establish Shariah, or religious law.
He also claimed that Switzerland already suffered from thousands of forced marriages.
Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Bern, the Swiss capital, said: "There is concern in Switzerland undoubtedly about what is being seen as the spread of radical Islam, but the Muslim community here has always been regarded as fairly moderate.
"They were saying that they wanted to see this proposal defeated, so I’m sure it is a real shock to them that at the moment we are seeing that most of the people here have voted in favour of [the ban]."
After the official results were known, far-right politicians celebrated, 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".
Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Switzerland’s justice minister, 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 said.
Farhad Afshar, who heads the Co-ordination of Islamic Organisations in Switzerland, said that "the most painful for us is not the minaret ban, but the symbol sent by this vote."
Supporters of the ban say minarets represent the growth of an alien ideology and legal system that have no place in the Swiss democracy.
"Forced marriages and other things like cemeteries separating the pure and impure – we don’t have that in Switzerland, and we do not want to introduce it," Ulrich Schlueer, co-president of the Initiative Committee to ban minarets, said.
Therefore, there’s no room for minarets in Switzerland."
But Switzerland’s Muslims have said that the referendum is fuelling [sic] anti-Islamic feeling in the country.
"The initiators 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," Taner Hatipoglu, the president of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Zurich, said.
Muslims in Switzerland say they are frightened by the vote, and the apparent rise of anti-Islam hatred.
What would have happened if the Swiss had put a referendum on the ballot to ban the construction of new steeples for Christian churches? Imagine the outcry that would ensue if an anti-steeple initiative made it to ballot in the United States…