Yesterday, Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on the construction of any minarets in the country. The minaret is to a mosque what a steeple is to a church, a clear architectural sign of the building's use and purpose. Effectively the ban will have the effect of hiding any public sense of the presence of Muslim believers in Switzerland.
The ban has been rapidly condemned by religious leaders all over Europe including the Anglican Bishop of London, Richard Chartres.
The passage of the bill has people all over Europe scrambling to understand both its implications and the reasons it was so strongly supported.
Reuters' FaithWorld blog has some initial thoughts:
"Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now.
This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban ‘buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighborhood’. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.
[...]Muslims in Europe were naturally shocked by the vote and worried about what might come next. The possibility of further pressure on them cannot be ignored because globalization is forcing European societies to deal with increasing religious, ethnic and cultural diversity."
Read the full post here. Following the link takes you to an image of the supporters of the ban's campaign poster featuring missile silo like minarets and woman in a burkha looming over the Swiss flag.