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American Muslims fear for European counterparts

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Switzerland’s decision to ban minarets has sparked outrage by Muslim-Americans who have called the vote “xenophobic and bigoted”.

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.

“Our fear is that the ban is going to further alienate a growing population of Muslims in Europe,” 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 America’s silence would send a negative message to the Muslim world.

“The 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,” Ali said. “We want him to continue those efforts and speak out against the ban.”

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 “utterly idiotic” adding that “passing laws that target Muslims for being Muslims is not part of any clash of civilizations, it is a failure of one”.

The Salt Lake Tribune also condemned the ban, calling the Swiss People’s Party “embarrassing” and adding that Swiss Muslims are forced to keep a low profile “so as not to excite the many people in the country who hate and fear them”.

The popular blogger Andrew Sullivan said the ban does nothing to address the issue of integration of Muslim immigrants and is a way to “provoke religious hostility and intolerance and thereby further radicalise Swiss Muslims”.

The Anti-Defamation League, a human rights organization, issued a statement urging the Swiss government to be “vigilant in its defense of religious freedom”.

“Those who initiated the anti-minaret campaign could try to further erode religious freedom through similar means,” the statement said.

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy said in a statement that the decision is of “great concern”, calling it part of a “disturbing trend in significant parts of Europe to restrict the religious freedom and self-expression of religious and ethnic minorities, notably of Muslims”.

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.

“Americans have been wondering when the Europeans will wake up and capture their own heritage,” Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, told

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 “anti-democratic”.

To Donahue, the Swiss decision is a good model for America, where he believes Muslims are treated preferentially. “The United States goes overboard to show Muslims how tolerant they are,” he said.

Karin Kamp in New York,

Switzerland is the first European country that has forbidden the construction of minarets.

On November 29, 57.5% of voters were in favour of a people’s initiative that said quite simply: Against the construction of minarets.

Several plans for building minarets in the German-speaking part of Switzerland were the catalyst for the initiative. Local residents collected signatures against the planned towers.

They were supported by the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and the Federal Democratic Union, which coordinated efforts.

The Muslim community accounts for about 4.5% of the Swiss population.

There are about 200 mosques and prayer rooms in Switzerland, but only four have a minaret.

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