The recent vote to ban the building of minarets in the European nation of Switzerland has been received with shock and criticism from religious groups, human rights organizations, and governments worldwide. The referendum, which according to the BBC received 57.2% of voter’s approval, has raised concerns of religious intolerance and Islamophobia in a country with an image of open-mindedness and tolerance.
Islamic Scholars from Indonesia to Egypt and beyond have decried the referendum as many attribute it to a lack of understanding of Islam. Displaying the unity of Islam and Christianity against ignorance and intolerance, the Vatican has joined in the condemnation by endorsing a statement by the conference of Swiss Bishops that censured the vote as increasing “the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures.”
The largest political party in Switzerland, The Swiss People’s Party, pushed for the proposal and ultimately succeeded, but only to witness an outcry from across Europe to have the decision overturned.
Secretary General of The Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights organization, Thorbjorn Jagland issued a statement after the referendum questioning the propriety of the referendum. “Bearing in mind that it is a fundamental right of democratic states to debate and vote on issues of importance to their societies, the referendum held [in late November] on the construction of new minarets in Switzerland raises concerns as to whether fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes,” he said.
However since the Swiss vote, a firestorm of cries from ultra-nationalist and anti-Islamic groups across Europe have called for similar votes to be put forward in their own countries. In Italy allies of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi have sought a “referendum on mosques.” Also in France, a country noted for its repression of the Islamic head scarf, Islamophobic groups apparently worried that Islam will soon become the dominant religion in Europe are seeking to follow in Swiss steps in seeking to prevent the spread Islam by preventing the construction of Islamic architecture.
This is all on a continent where Muslims already often complain of difficulty getting permits to construct places of prayer.
The Federation of Muslim Spain spokesman, Yusuf Fernandez, explained that due to crowded urban environments and the lack of availability of proper facilities, Muslims in his country often find themselves praying in overcrowded “garages” and “basements.” The chorus of concerned voices continues to grow, however.
Amnesty International has joined that chorus, given that during the campaign before the vote, violence against Mosques and Muslims has increased in Switzerland, home to roughly 400,000 Muslims. “The yes vote comes as a surprise and a great disappointment. That Switzerland, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance and the provision of refuge to the persecuted, should have accepted such a grotesquely discriminatory proposal is shocking indeed,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, the organization’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Program Director.
The Swiss government, which opposed the minaret ban, worried that it could incite protests from its Muslim community as well as tarnishes its image worldwide, has since been forced to acquiesce to the referendum’s result.
Roughly 700 Muslims have protested outside parliament in Bern, Switzerland with hopes that amongst all the opposition and criticism of the ban, the decision will be reversed by the Swiss Supreme Court.