In a referendum held in November, 57.5 per cent of Swiss voters supported a ban to prohibit the building of new minarets. Minarets are tall structures that rise from Islamic mosques and are traditionally (though not in Switzerland) used to issue the call to prayer.
The anti-minaret campaign was launched by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP)—the biggest party in parliament—and was used to sow seeds of anti-Muslim racism across the country. In times of economic crisis there is an amplified danger that such seeds will take root, since immigrants are often blamed for growing unemployment and deteriorating living standards.
There are only four minarets in Switzerland, in Geneva, Basel and Winterthur. All three of these cities opposed the ban, as did the country’s biggest city Zurich. 
An SVP member of parliament, Ulrich Schluer, said the ban was “nothing against Muslims” but a rejection of “a symbol for introducing…Sharia rights also in Switzerland.” But the SVP’s main poster revealed the racist intention behind the campaign. It showed a woman in a burqa beside the Swiss flag, which was blotted out by black minarets rising up from it like missiles. Three Swiss cities including Basel banned the poster, but Zurich and Geneva both allowed it in the name of “free speech”.
Most disappointing was the Swiss government’s weak response. Rather than outright condemning the ban, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has fuelled fears of Islamic “extremism” by saying “a ban…is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies” and that “provocation risks triggering other provocation and risks inflaming extremism”. Foreign Minister Micheline Calmey Ray chose to downplay the results: “this initiative is not the expression of the rejection of the Muslim community”, she insisted, before praising Switzerland as a “multicultural model” and place of “religious peace”.
Switzerland’s ban on minarets is not an isolated incident but part of a series of Islamophobic initiatives taking place across Europe. After banning headscarves in state schools in 2004, France is now drafting policy to outlaw the full Islamic veil in schools, hospitals and on public transport.
The Danish Prime Minister is also considering banning the burqa and niqab, while in Italy the Equal Opportunities Minister announced her “complete agreement with the French initiative”. Left-wing activists in Europe need to make a serious intervention into this hysteria by providing a clear voice of opposition to Islamophobia and campaigning against racism. 
By Erima Dall

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