A right-wing campaign to outlaw minarets on mosques in a referendum being held in Switzerland today has received an unlikely boost from radical feminists arguing that the tower-like structures are “male power symbols” and reminders of Islam’s oppression of women.
A “stop the minarets” campaign has provoked ferment in the land of Heidi, where women are more likely than men to vote for the ban after warnings from prominent feminists that Islam threatens their rights.
Forget about tranquil Alpine scenery and cowbells: one of the most startling features of the referendum campaign has been a poster showing a menacing woman in a burqa beside minarets rising from the Swiss flag.
It seems to have struck a nerve in Langenthal, a small town near Bern where Muslims plan to put up a minaret next to their prayer room in a bleak former paint factory.
“If we give them a minaret, they’ll have us all wearing burqas,” said Julia Werner, a local housewife. “Before you know it, we’ll have sharia law and women being stoned to death in our streets. We won’t be Swiss any more.”
A spoof video game on the internet called Minaret Attack shows minarets popping up all over the idyllic Swiss countryside, after which a message proclaims: “Game over! Switzerland is covered in minarets. Vote to ban them on November 29.”
“It’s a dirty campaign,” said Mutalip Karaademi, an Albanian who leads Langenthal’s small Muslim community. “They’re trying to provoke us.”
A poll suggested the Swiss would narrowly reject a ban but the feminist involvement is having an effect: according to one poll, 39% of women were in favour of a ban, but only 31% of men.
Tatiana, a teacher who had previously voted for the left, was quoted in a newspaper as saying she would vote for the minaret ban as she could “no longer bear being mistreated and terrorised by boys who believe women are worthless”.
Socialist politicians have been furious to see icons of the left joining what is regarded as an anti-immigrant campaign by the populist Swiss People’s party, the biggest group in parliament.
One of them, Julia Onken, warned that failure to ban minarets would be “a signal of the state’s acceptance of the oppression of women”. She has sent out 4,000 emails attacking Muslims who condone forced marriage, honour killings and beating women.
Swiss business is horrified. There are fears of a reaction against Swiss products similar to the one suffered by Denmark over the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in 2005.
“The brand ‘Swiss’ must continue to represent values such as openness, pluralism and freedom of religion,” said Hanspeter Rentsch, a member of the board of Swatch, the watchmaker.
Heinz Haab, secretary of the Swiss inter-religious organization, pastes a poster to a wall prior to a media conference entitled "Minaret ban: Discriminating and useless", in Bern, Switzerland, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009. The organization of minorities in Switzerland strongly opposes an initiative by supporters of the the right-wing Swiss People's Party that plans to ban minarets in Switzerland. A public vote on the minaret ban initiative will be held in Switzerland on Nov. 29, 2009. The slogan on the poster reads, "The sky above Switzerland is big enough. No to intolerance. No to the minaret-banning initiative."
The government, for its part, is worried about reprisals plunging Switzerland into the front line of the war against terror. Micheline Calmy-Rey, the foreign minister, said a yes vote “could make Switzerland a target for Islamic terrorism”.
With a Muslim population of 400,000 and some 150 mosques and prayer rooms, the Swiss thought they had avoided the kind of tensions that have arisen over Muslims’ rights in bigger neighbouring countries such as France and Germany.
That changed in 2006, however, when a Sikh temple, complete with a gleaming white crown, was inaugurated in Langenthal. Karaademi appears to have been struck with cupola envy.
“I said to myself: why not us?” he recalled last week, adding that he had applied for a permit to build what would be Switzerland’s fifth minaret and permission had been quickly granted.
Encouraged by this, Muslim communities all over the country began applying for permits to put up their own minarets, regardless of the fact that noise regulations prevent the towers from fulfilling their traditional function of calling the faithful to prayer.
People began to worry about minarets dominating the Swiss skyline.
“They felt threatened,” said Patrick Freudiger, a Conservative MP who likes to remember a comment by Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, who once described minarets as the “bayonets” of the Muslim faith. “Minarets are symbolic of a quest for political and religious power,” Freudiger said.
A similar battle has been raging in Germany over plans to build one of Europe’s biggest mosques in the shadow of Cologne cathedral. The Danes are also locked in debate over plans for two grand mosques in Copenhagen.
In an initiative that would please Switzerland’s antiminaret campaigners, an Italian town seized the headlines last week by putting up signs banning women from wearing the burqa in public.
“If we ban the minarets, that won’t help communication between us,” said Thomas Ruefener, the mayor of Langenthal. “And immigration will continue all the same.”
Referendum or not, the arguments seem likely to continue. “In Switzerland,” said Hisham Maizer, president of the Swiss Federation of Islamic Organisations, “the debate about Islam is only just beginning.”
Women lead Swiss in vote to ban minarets - Times Online