Oct 2 2009
Another racism row flared up in Switzerland after the country’s far-right party managed to trigger a referendum on banning minarets in the country.
SWISS PEOPLE’S PARTY has organized a referendum that would ban the construction of minarets on mosques in Switzerland. Arguing that the minarets are a symbol of political and religious claims to power, not just a religious sign, Ulrich Schluer of the SPP has said: “We’ve got nothing against prayer rooms or mosques for the Muslims. But a minaret is different. It’s got nothing to do with religion; it’s a symbol of political power.”
The demand for a popular vote was driven by the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which used an image of a white sheep kicking a black sheep off the Swiss flag to illustrate its anti-immigration policies in last year’s election campaign. The party managed to get more than 100,000 signatures on a petition calling for the ban, thus forcing the vote.
There are just two minarets at mosques in Switzerland, neither of which broadcasts calls to prayer, and a further three under consideration. Muslims account for about 310,000 people out of a population of 7.5 million. (Nip it in the bud before they spread like a virus)
But the controversy has echoes of a debate that has seen campaigns across Europe against minarets being built at mosques in Sweden, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Germany and Slovenia. In Cologne, plans to expand the Ditib Mosque with a dome and two 54-metre minarets triggered an angry response from right-wing groups and the city’s Catholic archbishop.
The Swiss Government tried to distance itself from the referendum call amid fears of an anti-Swiss reaction in the Muslim world. (Pussies) Pascal Couchepin, the President, said that the Government would recommend that voters reject the proposed ban.
Other members of Switzerland’s cross-party Government also spoke out against a ban. Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Foreign Minister, said that the initiative would lead to a security risk by provoking Muslim anger. (Pussies)
The SVP has a record of using the country’s system of direct democracy to provoke debate about immigration. This year it lost a referendum on moves to make it harder to obtain a Swiss passport.
The party said it had chosen minarets because they were “symbols of political-religious imperialism” rather than simply traditional architecture. Dominique Baettig, an SVP MP, said: “It is like the veil, it is a symbol of non-integration. We hope that this initiative sends a clear signal that we are calling a halt to the Islamisation of Switzerland. Our hard-won individual liberties are being eroded and that is not acceptable.”
Jasmin Hutter, vice-president of the party, added: “Many women, even socialists, signed this petition because not one Swiss woman can tolerate the way that Muslim men treat their wives.”
The Interior Ministry confirmed that it had received the referendum request but no date had been set. If it was approved, the Swiss Parliament would have to pass a law enshrining a construction ban on minarets in the constitution.
Henri-Maxime Khedoud, spokesman for the Swiss Association of Muslims for Secularism, called the referendum plan an attack against Muslims and contrary to the constitutional freedom of religion. The SVP’s aim was to provoke and get media attention, Mr Khedoud said, adding that it would also make it harder for Muslims to integrate in the Alpine nation.
He was confident that Swiss voters would see it as purely a headline-grabbing move. “I am sure it will be rejected,” he said.
Doudou Diène, the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, whose office is in Switzerland, said last year that there was “a dynamic of racism and xenophobia” in the country. The underlying causes were a “deep-rooted cultural resistance within Swiss society to the multiculturalisation process” and “the growing prevalence of racist and xenophobic stances in political programmes and discourse, particularly during elections and various votes”. (No, it is all about the anti-Islamization of Switzerland. Period.) TIMES ONLINE