TIMESONLINE…The Swiss and European establishment united today in deploring yesterday’s decision by Swiss voters to outlaw the construction of minarets but conservative leaders warned that the referendum showed genuine fear over Islam on the continent.
Swiss officials, media and business leaders voiced shame over a vote that they say will stigmatise the country’s 400,000 Muslims and stain Switzerland’s name in the Muslim world. In contrast, hard right leaders in France, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands hailed what they depicted as a triumph for the people against the elite.
Le Temps, Geneva’s establishment newspaper, said: “The vote was inspired by fear, fantasies and ignorance.” Damage to the country’s international standing would be spectacular, it said. “Vengeance [ aka fear], boycotts [ aka fantasy], retaliation [aka ignorance] … this clash with Islam could cost dearly.”
Tagesanzeiger, the Zurich daily, said that the vote, staged on the initiative of the nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), showed the country’s deep division between outward-looking modernisers and a traditionalist backlash. The 57 per cent approval of the minaret ban would “strengthen the international isolation of Switzerland even among western nations,” it said.
The Swiss Government, which opposed the vote, reassured members of the faith that “this is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.” The Conference of Swiss Bishops also criticised the result, saying that it “heightens the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures.”
Amnesty international and other rights organisations said that the change to the Swiss Constitution breached guarantees on religious freedom in the European Human Rights Convention. The Swiss Green party said that it may lodge a complaint at the Strasbourg court of Human Rights.
Swiss Muslims, who come mainly from the Balkans and Turkey, reacted with sorrow. “The most painful thing for us is not the ban on minarets, but the symbol sent by this vote,” said Farhad Afshar, leader of the Swiss Coordination of Islamic Organisations. “Muslims do not feel accepted as a religious community,” he said.
Anger was swift from more militant wings of the Muslim world. “This is the hatred of Swiss people against Muslim communities. They do not want to see a Muslim presence in their country and this intense dislike has made them intolerant,” said Maskuri Abdillah, the head of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s biggest Muslim group. He urged Muslims not to take “revenge” for the decision.
Egypt’s Mufti Ali Gomaa denounced the ban on new minarets as an insult to all Muslims. “This proposal … is not considered just an attack on freedom of beliefs, but also an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside Switzerland.”
Beyond Switzerland, the vote was criticised by centre and leftwing leaders. Bernard Kouchner, a leftist who is French Foreign Minister, said that he had been shocked. Switzerland should reverse the decision quickly, he said. “If you are not allowed to build minarets, that means that religion is being oppressed.” Can someone please show me an Muslim dominated country where religions other than Islam are not oppressed?
However spokesman for Mr Sarkozy’s centre-right Union for a Popular Majority, took a different line, saying that the vote showed the degree to which radical Islam was alarming Europe’s citizens. Xavier Bertrand, the party leader, said that he was “not sure that minarets are needed in order to practise Islam in France”.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat (CDU) party reacted with similar caution. To criticise the Swiss ban would be counterproductive, said Wolfgang Bosbach a senior CDU MP. It reflected a fear of growing Islamisation “and this fear must be taken seriously,” he said.
France’s far right National Front welcomed the outcome, saying that the “elites should stop denying the aspirations and fears of the European people, who, without opposing religious freedom, reject ostentatious signs that political-religious Muslim groups want to impose.”
In Italy, the anti-immigrant Northern League, said: “Switzerland is sending us a clear signal: yes to bell towers, no to minarets.”
In Switzerland, Yvan Perrin, vice-president of the SVP, the largest party in the federal Parliament, said that the vote was a lesson to the elite. Swiss companies should not worry about suffering from a backlash from Muslim countries, he said. “If our companies continue to make good quality products, they have nothing to worry about.”