Page last updated at 16:49 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

Vatican and Muslims condemn Swiss minaret ban vote

One of four minarets in Switzerland
There are only four minarets in Switzerland

Religious leaders across the world have criticised Switzerland's referendum vote to ban the building of minarets.

The Vatican joined Muslim figureheads from Indonesia and Egypt, as well as Switzerland, in denouncing the vote as a blow to religious freedom.

France's FM Bernard Kouchner expressed shock at the ban which, he said, showed "intolerance" and should be reversed.

But European right-wing groups welcomed the result, calling for other countries to take similar measures.

More than 57.5% of Swiss voters and 22 out of 26 cantons - or provinces - voted in favour of the ban on Sunday.

The proposal had been put forward by the Swiss People's Party (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which said minarets were a sign of Islamisation.

'Expression of intolerance'

The Vatican on Monday endorsed a statement by the conference of Swiss Bishops criticising the vote for heightening "the problems of cohabitation between religions and cultures".

Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa described the ban as an insult to the feelings of the Muslim community in Switzerland and elsewhere.

Gavin Hewitt
Much of the concern is based on fear... There are only four minarets in Switzerland but there are widely-held concerns of society dividing into 'parallel communities'.
Gavin Hewitt

Sunday's surprise result also prompted dismay from secular leaders in Europe.

"I am a bit shocked by this decision," Mr Kouchner told France's RTL radio on Monday. "It is an expression of intolerance and I detest intolerance.

"I hope the Swiss will reverse this decision quickly."

But Marine Le Pen, the deputy-leader of France's far-right National Front, praised the outcome, and said France should now hold a wider referendum on multiculturalism.

"The elites should stop denying the hopes and fears of European peoples who, without opposing religious freedom, reject ostentatious symbols forced on them by politico-religious Muslim groups, often verging on provocation," she was quoted as saying by Agence France Presse.

In Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, anti-immigrant movements called on their own governments to debate similar measures.

"What can be done in Switzerland, can be done here," said Geert Wilders, the head of the Freedom Party in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile Roberto Calderoli, a member of Italy's Northern League, which is part of the country's ruling coalition, said: "Switzerland is sending us a clear signal: yes to bell towers, no to minarets."

In recent years, countries across Europe have been debating how best to integrate Muslim populations.

France focused on the headscarf, while in Germany there was controversy over plans to build one of Europe's largest mosques.

Government ignored

The vote is very bad news for the Swiss government which fears unrest among the Muslim community, says the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Bern.

Geert Wilders
Wilders welcomed the ban and called for the Netherlands to follow suit

The Swiss government had opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland's image, particularly in the Muslim world.

Voters worried about rising immigration - and with it the rise of Islam - had ignored the government's advice, our correspondent adds.

The government said it accepted the decision, and that the construction of new minarets would no longer be permitted.

Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said: "Concerns [about Islamic fundamentalism] have to be taken seriously.

"However, a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies."

She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was "not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture".

'Major problems'

Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets.

After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.

Bernard Kouchner, file pic from November 2009
Kouchner said he hoped the Swiss would reverse the decision

There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.

Supporters of a ban claimed that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system - Sharia law - which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.

But others say the referendum campaign incited hatred. On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.

Amnesty International said the vote violated freedom of religion and would probably be overturned by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights.

The president of Zurich's Association of Muslim Organisations, Tamir Hadjipolu, told the BBC: "This will cause major problems because during this campaign mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland.

"Islamaphobia has increased intensively."

Sunday's referendum was held after the SVP collected 100,000 signatures from voters within 18 months calling for a vote.

Print Sponsor

Swiss voters back ban on minarets
29 Nov 09 |  Europe
Zurich allows anti-minaret poster
08 Oct 09 |  Europe
Swiss Muslims open mosque doors
07 Nov 09 |  Europe
Country profile: Switzerland
25 Oct 11 |  Country profiles

Sydney Morning Herald Switzerland scrambles to contain minaret storm - 32 hrs ago
The Independent Swiss official hints at reversal of minaret ban - 32 hrs ago
Time Minaret Ban Challenges Tolerant Swiss Image - 36 hrs ago
Telegraph Swiss face minaret backlash - 36 hrs ago Foreign, Domestic Anger at Swiss Minaret Ban - 38 hrs ago

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific