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Swiss Vote to Ban Minarets Draws Criticism

Measure to amend constitution stuns experts

Lisa Bryant

Populism, Islamophobia, intolerance - those are just some of the critiques unleashed by the results of a referendum in Switzerland, where more than 57 percent of Swiss backed a measure to ban the construction of minarets in the Alpine nation.

In Geneva, Hafid Ourardiri, the head of the Muslim Council of Interknowing, an interfaith dialogue group, said he was sad and surprised at the outcome.  Polls before the referendum indicated voters would reject the minaret ban proposal.

"We do not want to believe that we are suspected on that level," he said.  "Now ... we are really sad, we are really sad for ourselves and sad for Switzerland [and its place] in the world.  It is not good for our country, because Switzerland is our country."

In neighboring France, home to Europe's largest Islamic community, Muslim leaders and a number of prominent politicians also denounced the vote.  French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was scandalized by the results.

Kouchner told French radio that religious freedom was essential and the vote sanctioned moderate Muslims.

In Britain, The Times newspaper also called the vote an attack on religious liberty and prominent Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan urged Europeans to stand up to anti-Muslim sentiments.

Religious leaders in the Muslim world were similarly dismayed.  The grand mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, told Swiss Info news service the vote would fuel extremism and intolerance.  A representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference said he was surprised and disappointed.

But others praised the result.  In the Netherlands, the nationalist Dutch Freedom Party said it would urge the government to hold a similar minaret referendum.  Leaders from right-wing parties in Austria and France said the results affirmed Swiss national identity.  Meanwhile, the Secretary General of France's ruling UMP party, Xavier Bertrand, questioned whether minarets were needed in practicing Islam.

In Switzerland, Hafid Ourardiri said he hoped the vote would not trigger an angry backlash.

"What we want is that everything goes peacefully," he said.  "We have to accept what happened, but treat this in a good way.  We do not want to add hate to hate."

Ourardiri also said Swiss Muslims planned to appeal the referendum's results before the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, France.  

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