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The minaret ban hits the headlines

The surprise clear vote dominated the Swiss newspapers

(swissinfo.ch)

Sunday's clear decision by Swiss voters to ban further construction of minarets in the country has sent shockwaves around the world.

In Switzerland, there seems to be a general concern in the media that the vote (57.5 per cent in favour of the ban) could lead to reprisals from Muslims.

The Fribourg newspaper La Liberté says Switzerland might have to pay for a "democratic luxury".

"At a time when there are so many other challenges, including the economic crisis, the conflict with Libya and also the disappearance of banking secrecy, let's hope the price to pay will not be exorbitant."

The Tribune de Genève echoes many other newspaper opinions by arguing that the vote was a "yes" related to fear of Islam. Geneva was one of only four of the 26 Swiss cantons to vote against the initiative of the right.

The Basler Zeitung, among others, makes the point that the vote was not about the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

"Gut feelings"

"This weekend gut feelings decided [the result]: these include resentment over the lack of willingness to integrate by some migrants, the widespread fear of the spread of foreign cultures and the fear that the Swiss Christian culture could be under threat."

The mass-circulation Blick newspaper of Zurich comments that the vote was a "big slap in the face" for the government and most political parties that had opposed the ban.

It asks whether there will now be a big debate in the country about Islam. Blick sums it up this way: "Clear vote, unclear consequences".

One of its commentators notes that Swiss exporters will now have to beware, explaining that they exported goods worth SFr14.5 billion ($14.49 billion) last year to Muslim countries, seven per cent of total exports.

"After the 'yes' vote to the minaret initiative, there is now a fear of boycotts."

"Backlash"

The Zurich correspondent of Britain's Financial Times said the vote in Switzerland "potentially exposed it to a backlash from the Muslim world."

"The emotive nature of the poll, heightened by a controversial poster campaign showing minarets looking like missiles, was reflected in an unusually high turnout of about 53 per cent."

The main party behind the initiative, the rightwing Swiss People's Party, also comes in for comment.

"The party, which has grown to dominate Swiss politics over the past 15 years through strident populism, has made the alleged 'islamisation' of Swiss society one of its prime targets, along with foreigners' alleged criminal tendencies and abuse of social security."

Le Temps of Geneva does not mince its words. It comments that the future will decide if the up-till-now peaceful relations between Swiss and Muslims will deteriorate after "this brutal sign of hostility".

"Not against mosques"

"But let's keep in mind that the Swiss voted against minarets and not against mosques."

Zurich's Neue Zürcher Zeitung explained that public discussion in Switzerland had gone as far as calling the fears over minarets a "clash of cultures". Debate was a question of the "advance of Islam" and was mainly against "Islamists prepared to be violent".

The Wall Street Journal commented that the vote highlighted "the persistent conflict over the integration of Europe's growing Muslim population into civil society"

"Earlier this month, France considered whether to bar Muslim women from wearing full-face veils, sparking a heated debate in which one French politician described burqas, the head-to-toe veils worn by some very devout Muslim women, as "walking coffins." The government issued a recommendation against wearing burqas, but stopped short of an outright ban."

"The yes vote in Switzerland could raise interfaith tensions in a country that has largely escaped such conflicts in recent years."

"Surprise"

"The vote in favor of the ban is a surprise in a country that prides itself on integrating immigrants, and where about a fifth of the population are foreigners. About 400,000, or roughly five percent, of Swiss residents are Muslim.

The New York Times also sees the threat of a backlash after the vote.

This has "put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population".

"Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurt Switzerland's international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there."

Swiss Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng told the Bund newspaper of Bern of his concerns, arguing the decision would have a high cost for Switzerland.

The 81-year-old said the good integration of Muslims in Switzerland was now in danger.

"As a Swiss abroad I was always proud of my country. The latest catastrophic developments for its image - for example banking secrecy - now culminate in this incomprehensible acceptance of an initiative, which not only goes against religious freedom, but also against tolerance that is so prized in Switzerland."

Robert Brookes, swissinfo.ch

Key facts

Minaret ban - final results:
57.5% yes
42.5% no
Turnout: 53.4%
Four cantons carried out trials with e-voting. The Swiss abroad registered in Geneva and Basel City were also taking part in the scheme.

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In brief

Switzerland has become the first European country to ban the construction of minarets.

The proposal was launched by members of the rightwing Swiss People's Party and the ultra conservative Federal Democratic Union.

The initiative came in response to opposition by conservative groups at a local level against applications to build a minaret next to a mosque.

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