Swiss voter give a surprise ‘yes’ to ban on minarets


A strong majority (57.5 %) of voters accepted the initiative Sunday to ban the construction of new minarets, a result that has sent shockwaves across the Swiss political landscape. The government and major political parties, with the notable exception of the Swiss People’s Party, had called for voters to reject the measure.

Only four cantons (Geneva, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Basel City) rejected the measure, with the opposition notably coloring the map in the western French-speaking region.

The initiators of the measure, the right-wing ”Erkingen Committee,” which claimed minarets were an attempt to spread radical Islam in Switzerland, said the vote would bar any attempt to introduce elements of Sharia law in Switzerland.

The government issued an official statement saying that the Federal Council “respects this decision” and that “consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted. The four existing minarets will remain.” It added, that it will be possible to construct new mosques and that Muslims in Switzerland “are able to practice their religion alone or in community with others, and live according to their beliefs just as before.”

However, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf called the result “disappointing.” She analyzed the vote as “the expression of fears among the population about Islamic extremists.” Across the political spectrum, parties called for more debate about Muslim integration in Swiss society. Leaders of the Green Party say they will examine whether to challenge the law at the European Court of Human Rights.

Religious leaders also condemned the vote. Farhad Afshar, president of the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland, said the results of the vote meant that ”Muslims did not feel accepted as a religious community in Switzerland.” Hafid Wardiri, former spokesman of the Petit-Saconnex mosque near Geneva, and a leading figure in the country’s Muslim community called the vote “shameful for the country I love.” Catholics also expressed their disappointment. A statement from the Conference of Bishops described the results as “an obstacle and great challenge on the road to integration through dialogue and mutual respect.”

The vote was widely followed around the world, with many online websites across Europe and the Arab world leading with the results. Widmer-Schlumpf said the government has received a number of messages from abroad expressing concern about the vote—and sending a signal that the vote would send a negative signal for business and tourism.

World Radio Switzerland

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