4 December 2009
Switzerlandís decision to ban minarets has sparked outrage by Muslim-Americans who have called the vote ìxenophobic and bigoted.î
The Swiss minaret ban, agreed by voters on Sunday, heightens a general concern by Muslims in the United States about the challenges faced by Muslims living in Europe.
ìOur fear is that the ban is going to further alienate a growing population of Muslims in Europe,î said Faiza Ali of The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a leading Muslim-American group.
Ali cited other examples of challenges faced by European Muslims, including French resistance to burkas worn by some Muslim women, and opposition in parts of Europe to Turkish membership in the European Union.
CAIR has called on President Barack Obama to denounce the minaret ban, stating that Americaís silence would send a negative message to the Muslim world.
ìThe president has made an effort to reach out to Muslims outside of the United States to build up a relationship that was tarnished during the Bush era,î Ali said. ìWe want him to continue those efforts and speak out against the ban.î
At the same time, Ali said her group is against efforts to boycott Swiss products and services, believing that civic engagement is more fruitful.
Chorus of disapproval
Besides national papers, such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, a number of local newspapers have also denounced the decision. The New York Daily News, called the Swiss vote ìutterly idioticî adding that ìpassing laws that target Muslims for being Muslims is not part of any clash of civilizations, it is a failure of oneî.
The Salt Lake Tribune also condemned the ban, calling the Swiss Peopleís Party ìembarrassingî and adding that Swiss Muslims are forced to keep a low profile ìso as not to excite the many people in the country who hate and fear themî.
The popular blogger Andrew Sullivan said the ban does nothing to address the issue of integration of Muslim immigrants and is a way to ìprovoke religious hostility and intolerance and thereby further radicalise Swiss Muslimsî.
The Anti-Defamation League, a human rights organization, issued a statement urging the Swiss government to be ìvigilant in its defense of religious freedomî.
ìThose who initiated the anti-minaret campaign could try to further erode religious freedom through similar means,î the statement said.
The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy said in a statement that the decision is of ìgreat concernî, calling it part of a ìdisturbing trend in significant parts of Europe to restrict the religious freedom and self-expression of religious and ethnic minorities, notably of Muslimsî.
At the same time the group credited the Swiss government for its stance against the proposal.
While opposition to the ban is strong, some conservative groups believe it is long overdue and hope the US. will draw lessons from the Swiss vote.
ìAmericans have been wondering when the Europeans will wake up and capture their own heritage,î Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, told swissinfo.ch.
Muslims must be welcomed into European countries, he said, on the condition that they agree to assimilate and abide by the norms of democracy.
Like many supporters of the ban, Donahue believes that allowing minarets would encourage the growth of an unwelcome ideology and support the Islamic legal system known as Shariah, which he calls ìanti-democraticî.
To Donahue, the Swiss decision is a good model for America, where he believes Muslims are treated preferentially. ìThe United States goes overboard to show Muslims how tolerant they are,î he said.
By Karin Kamp