Switzerland’s political right on Sunday scored a surprising victory in a referendum on banning construction of minarets, denting the nation’s cherished image as a bastion of tolerance and threatening to set it at odds with international law and the Muslim world.
The Swiss Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but the rightist Swiss People’s Party, or S.V.P., and a small religious party proposed inserting a single sentence banning the construction of minarets, the towers that typically stand adjacent to mosques and serve to issue the Muslim call to prayer.
Pre-referendum polls had indicated a comfortable, if slowly shrinking, majority against the proposal, but official results Sunday showed that the S.V.P. and its allies had won 57 percent of the vote. The result came after a controversial campaign that played aggressively on the same fears of Muslim immigration and the spread of Islamic values that already resonate in other European countries…
The result represents a deep embarrassment for the government, which had strongly opposed the motion, and leaves it with a complex political and legal tangle. With the vote Sunday, the ban on minaret construction automatically becomes part of the Constitution, said Lukas Goldber, an analyst at gfs.bern, a political and social research institute.
The Swiss cabinet, or Federal Council, issued a statement that it “respects this decision. Consequently, the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted.”
…debate prompted the Swiss government to mount a vigorous public relations campaign overseas to try to avoid a backlash in Islamic countries — like the one Denmark faced after publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad — and damage to lucrative commercial and banking ties with wealthy Muslims.
Still, the campaign came as a rude shock to Switzerland’s estimated 400,000 Muslims, about 6 percent of the population, whose leaders have been careful to avoid attracting little public attention, said Youssef Ibram, an imam at Geneva’s main mosque and Islamic Cultural Foundation.
Of 150 mosques or prayer rooms in Switzerland, only 4 have minarets and only 2 more minarets are planned. None conduct the call to prayer.
Close to 90 percent of Muslims in Switzerland are from Kosovo and Turkey and do not adhere to the codes of dress and conduct associated with conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, said Manon Schick, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Switzerland…
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