ARAB WORLD: Libya's Kadafi and some Muslim clerics urge Swiss to drop minaret ban
Having long touted neutrality and moderation in world affairs, Switzerland is now being accused of fanning the flames of religious extremism by voting in a referendum to outlaw the building of mosque minarets.
Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, long accused of supporting militant groups throughout the Middle East, says the Swiss are now supporting terrorism, at least indirectly.
The famously long-winded Kadafi spoke for 78 minutes this weekend on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his rule, according to Libyan television, which carried the speech live.
Kadafi said the vote late last month will help Osama bin Laden recruit associates.
"Switzerland has done the so-called Al Qaeda, or the terrorists, the biggest favor," he said.
Now concern about the referendum is emerging as a major issue in the Middle East.
Jordan's Islamic Action Front, the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has asked the Swiss to rescind the ban lest it risk jeopardizing relations with the Arab world. Ishaq Farhan, a leader of the group, called the referendum racist and discriminatory, according to the English-language Jordan Times.
He warned that there would be dire consequences if Switzerland didn't overturn the ban, including the possibility that the leaders and royal families of oil-rich Persian Gulf would refuse to bank with the Swiss.
"If Switzerland remains adamant in discriminating against Muslims, Muslim nations, particularly the oil-rich Arab Gulf states, will pressure their governments to take retaliatory measures, including economic sanctions," he said. "Think of your interests. You are in need of oil, gas, seaports, seas, solar energy and investments. Be careful before you lose all that."
He warned that adhering to the ban would affect Switzerland's relations with the entire Muslim world, including giants such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia and India. "Swiss tourists and Swiss nationals will be boycotted," he added.
Sunni clerics in the tiny oil-rich state of Bahrain said the ban showed the West's hypocrisy.
"The ban sharply contrasts with the pompous claims often made by the West about freedom of religion, human rights and tolerance," Jassim Saeedi, an independent member of parliament in the lower house of the bicameral parliament, told worshipers Friday, according to a report in the Dubai-based Gulf News.
At least one cleric, though, urged the faithful to remain calm.
"Angry and passionate reactions will inevitably result in negative results and will not help settle the issue," Abdul Rahman Fadil told worshipers in Bahrain. "Dialogue and open conversations should be the standard in addressing the ban."
Kadafi, however, lambasted the Swiss. His country and Switzerland have been on the outs ever since authorities briefly detained Kadafi's son for allegedly hurting a domestic servant traveling with his family in Switzerland.
"We tell them that the minaret is at the heart of the mosque," he said. "How can we tell a mosque from any other place if we did not see the minaret?"
The Swiss, he said, should not worry that Muslims were trying to take over their country. "We do not wish for Switzerland to be a Muslim country, so that they would not go to heaven and would not receive God's mercy," he said. "We would want them to remain pagan."
-- Borzou Daragahi in BeirutPhoto: Minarets loom over the dome of the Sehitlik Mosque in Berlin. Credit: Sean Gallup / Getty Images