It wasn’t meant to go this way. For months we had been told that the efforts to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland were doomed. The last surveys suggested around 34% of the Swiss population would vote for this shocking initiative. Last Friday, in a meeting organised in Lausanne, more than 800 students, professors and citizens were in no doubt that the referendum would see the motion rejected, and instead were focused on how to turn this silly initiative into a more positive future.
Today that confidence was shattered, as 57% of the Swiss population did as the Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC) had urged them to – a worrying sign that this populist party may be closest to the people’s fears and expectations. For the first time since 1893 an initiative that singles out one community, with a clear discriminatory essence, has been approved in Switzerland. One can hope that the ban will be rejected at the European level, but that makes the result no less alarming. What is happening in Switzerland, the land of my birth?
There are only four minarets in Switzerland, so why is it that it is there that this initiative has been launched? My country, like many in Europe, is facing a national reaction to the new visibility of European Muslims. The minarets are but a pretext – the UDC wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but were afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned their sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol. [continued...]
While Switzerland’s Muslim community of some 300,000 is relatively small there is wider concern about immigration in a country where foreigners make up more than a fifth of the total 7.7 million population.
Nationwide voter turnout was about 53 percent, higher than a more usual 35 to 45 percent, and 22 of 26 cantons, or provinces, voted in favor of the initiative. The decision went against recent polls, which had indicated a slim majority opposed a ban.
There was marked division between urban areas like Zurich and French-speaking areas — which are traditionally more liberal — and rural, German speaking cantons like Schaffhausen, where some 70 percent of voters supported the initiative.
“It represents a two finger gesture against the towns, foreigners, the powerful, the better educated and the like. The pattern of voting confirms that,” said Swiss culture and politics expert Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania. [continued...]