Anti-minaret poster campaign divides cities

A controversial poster for the rightwing Swiss People's Party's anti-minaret campaign has been banned in several cities, but allowed in others.

This content was published on October 8, 2009 - 19:35

Cities around the country have been announcing whether the poster of missile-like minarets atop a Swiss flag could be put up ahead of a nationwide vote on the issue on November 29.

Lausanne, Montreux, Fribourg and Yverdon-les-Bains followed Basel in outlawing the posters in publicly owned spaces, but Geneva, Zurich, Biel, Winterthur and Lucerne have rejected the ban on free-speech grounds.

Basel and Lausanne said the posters painted a "racist, disrespectful and dangerous image" of Islam. Zurich officials said while they also disapproved of the posters because they portrayed Islam as "threatening, negative and dangerous", they had to be accepted as part of political free-speech in the run-up to the vote.

The initiative to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland was launched by the People's Party and a small ultra-conservative Christian party.

The Federal Commission against Racism said the campaign's main poster "incites hatred".

Representatives of the People's Party said the commission is censoring free-speech like Nazis and communists.

Henri-Maxime Khedoud, a Geneva resident and spokesman for the Swiss Association of Secular Muslims, said the posters were an attempt to play on voters' fear of Islam.

"They give the impression that we are trying to impose Sharia law like in Saudi Arabia, but this is not true," he said. "Most Muslims in Switzerland come from Europe."

The alpine country saw a large influx of Muslim refugees from former Yugoslavia during the 1990s and now has more than 310,000 Muslim residents, or about four per cent of the population.

Khedoud said Switzerland's Muslims were most concerned about everyday racism, not a lack of minarets. "The problem for us is integration and finding work for our children," he said.

A poll published on Thursday in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper showed 51.3 per cent of those questioned said they would reject the proposed ban. Some 34.9 per cent of voters supported the proposal, while 13.7 per cent were undecided. and agencies

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