Far-right Swiss politicians rejoice after the majority of voters supported a referendum proposing a ban on the building of minarets in Switzerland.
A clear majority of 57.5 percent of the population and 22 out of 26 cantons (provinces) favored the ban on construction of the symbolic towers — a distinct architectural feature of Islamic mosques from which Muslims are called to prayer.
Far-right politicians pushing for the ban in the past few months have portrayed the minaret as a ‘symbol of radicalism,’ but the government officially opposed the ban over concerns that it would harm Switzerland’s image.
Following the vote on Sunday, Bern sought to avoid embarrassment by reassuring the Muslim minority that a ban on minarets was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”
However, the government said it would have to enforce the new ban, which has secured a double majority in terms of cantons and absolute figures. It will now be inscribed in the country’s constitution.
“The Federal Council respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted,” AFP quoted a government statement.
Switzerland’s biggest party, the national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and Federal Democratic Union had forced a referendum under Swiss regulations.
The parties tapped into voters concerns about rising immigration in the country, collecting 100,000 signatures they needed from eligible voters within 18 months.
The result “reflects fears among the population of Islamic fundamentalist tendencies,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was quoted as saying.
She, however, rejected the idea of banning minarets as a “feasible means of countering extremist tendencies.”
“Today’s popular decision is only directed against the construction of new minarets. It is not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture. Of that, the Federal Council gives its assurance,” she went on to add.
The Muslim community in Switzerland is notably small, with 400,000 Muslims making up six percents of its 7.5 million populations. The country has an estimated 150 mosques, but only four are adorned with minarets.
“We just want to stop further Islamisation in Switzerland, I mean political Islam. People may practice their religion, that is no problem,” Walter Wobmann, president of the anti-Islam committee that drove the initiative, told Reuters on Sunday.
His committee had distributed campaign posters showing the Swiss flag covered in missile-like minarets next to the menacing portrait of a woman cloaked in a black burqa.
Zurich’s decision to approve the display of the anti-Islamic poster caused controversy, but the city council defended the choice as a necessary component of free speech.