Switzerland: Swiss Rightwingers challenge minarets as “Islamist” threat

Right-wing politicians from Switzerland’s largest political party on Thursday launched a campaign for a referendum to ban the construction of minarets on mosques, claiming they symbolized an Islamist bid for power. The group, including more than half of the Swiss People’s Party’s (SVP) parliamentarians, said in a statement that a ban would help stop “attempts by Islamist circles to impose a legal system based on the sharia in Switzerland.” Some of the politicians said they did not oppose mosques or Muslims’ right to worship. The Swiss constitution guarantees religious freedoms and the legality of the initiative was questioned by one former judge. Parliamentarian Oskar Freysinger branded minarets “lighthouses of jihad” while his colleague Ulrich Schlueer claimed that they were “Islamist buildings with an imperialist connotation.” Schlueer said minarets were not a religious symbol but a sign of a “political-religious bid for power.” To trigger a national referendum, campaigners must collect 100,000 signatures. They hope to introduce a constitutional amendment to the article that upholds peace between members of religious communities-explicitly forbidding the construction of minarets. Swiss Roman Catholic bishops dealing with relations with Muslims said in a statement that they opposed the campaign for a blanket ban on minarets. Supporters of the anti-minaret intitiative include 36 of the SVP’s 63 parliamentarians and two from a small hard right party. The campaign will also coincide with general elections in October. The populist SVP surged to the largest single share of the vote in the 2003 elections, 26 percent, after a campaign focused on curbing immigration. There are about 311,000 Muslims among the 7.5 million strong Swiss population, according to official statistics. Most of them are originally from the Balkans.