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MUSLIM WORLD: Swiss businessman defiantly builds minaret to protest ban

December 11, 2009 |  7:14 am


In a country where failing to use official, region-specific trash bags can incur a hefty fine, defying a architectural ban on minarets is practically an act of terrorism. 

But that didn't stop Swiss businessman Guillaume Morand, who protested last month's constitutional amendment banning minarets by building one atop the chimney of his office in the city of Lausanne.

Morand, who owns a chain of shoe stores, told the AFP news agency that the ban is shameful, and blamed liberal parties for failing to counter what he described as right-wing scare tactics. The Swiss People's Party, which spearheaded the initiative to ban minarets on mosques, released an aggressive campaign including posters of women in face-covering burkas and minarets shaped like rockets.

The ban was all the more scandalous, Morand said, given that Switzerland encourages Arabs to "visit the country and to spend their money here."

Morand joins prominent Jewish leaders and the Vatican in condemning the referendum last month, when 53% of Swiss voters went to the polls to decide whether to outlaw the construction of any more minarets, although only four mosques in Switzerland have them. The amendment passed with 57% of the votes.

The Independent of London reported Monday that a group of prominent Swiss intellectuals is already preparing an initiative to overturn the ban, although many have speculated the new amendment will be struck down anyway by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Vatican backed a statement by the Swiss Bishops' Conference calling the decision "a great challenge on the path of integration in dialogue and mutual respect."

Moreover, the statement said, the vote "will not help the Christians oppressed and persecuted in Islamic countries, but will weaken the credibility of their commitment in these countries."

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that European Jews have also come out strongly against the ban, pointing out that in the past, bans and regulations were imposed on synagogues as well.

"Precisely because the Jewish community has firsthand experience of discrimination, it is committed to active opposition to discrimination and to action in favor of religious freedom and peaceful relations between the religions," two Swiss Jewish groups declared in a statement.

Swiss Jewry, the statement said, "takes seriously the fears of the population that extremist ideas could be disseminated in Switzerland. But banning minarets is no solution -- it only creates in Muslims in Switzerland a sense of alienation and discrimination."

The American Anti-Defamation League also released a statement condemning the ban as a "populist political campaign of religious intolerance."

"This is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance," the statement read. 

"A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population," it said. "We share the ... concern that those who initiated the anti-minaret campaign could try to further erode religious freedom through similar means."

The executive director of the American Jewish Committee said the group stands "firmly against these rabble-rousing politics in the name of pluralism and democracy.”

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Swiss businessman Guillaume Morand erected a minaret atop the chimney of his office building to protest the government's ban. Credit: AFP