Switzerland’s Neutral Stance a Wash After Minaret Ban

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Rarely do we witness such a firestorm over architecture, but when it involves a famously neutral European nation and one of the world’s oldest religions, things get messy. Switzerland just pushed through a ban against minarets, or Muslim prayer towers, by a popular vote of 57.5%. The ban was sponsored in part by the far-right Swiss People’s party (SVP) who publicized a series of advertisements earlier this year: stark “stop” posters depicting a burqa-ed Muslim woman set against a Swiss flag punctuated with missile-shaped black minarets. Neutrality? So 20th century. UPDATE: We’ve got an official statement from the Swiss Tourism Board, after the jump.

Depressingly, even Switzerland has right-wing crazies, like the ones who threw pink paint on the entrance of the Geneva Mosque last Thursday, the third such act of vandalism this month. What’s laughable about the situation is that the initial proposal was spurred by People’s Party representatives claiming that the towers are part of a Muslim strategy to turn Switzerland Islamic, inciting public fear that “Shariah law, which would create ‘parallel societies’ where honor killings, forced marriages and even stoning are practiced.”

There are an estimated 400,000 to 450,000 Muslims living in the country, out of a total of 7.7 million inhabitants.

Though the four existing minarets in Switzerland will be unaffected by the ban, a single blunt line will be added to the Swiss Constitution outlawing future towers. Some city governments have taken a more tolerant stance, however — Basel, Lausanne and Fribourg all banned the People’s Party billboards, as they paint a “racist, disrespectful and dangerous image” of Islam — so it remains to be seen how the technical language will be interpreted by regional governments.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay says the referendum puts Switzerland on a “collision course with international law” and condemned the “deeply divisive” result as “anti-foreigner scare-mongering.” Political commentators have noted that the Alpine nation risks “international pariah status” and a ruined reputation with the world’s Muslim population. From an economic standpoint, the ban will likely alienate wealthy Muslims who bank in Switzerland, buy the country’s luxury goods, and frequent its resorts.

Switzerland Tourism’s official statement on the brouhaha:

“After yesterday’s voting results, freedom of religion will continue to prevail in Switzerland. Mosques and Muslim places of worship will continue to be built and operated. Only the construction of minarets will no longer be permitted.

At present, the possible impact of the vote’s results on the development of overnights of Muslim guests is purely speculative. Currently, we have no indication that the travel behaviour of Muslim guests is likely to change. History has shown us that the selection of any travel destination is primarily influenced by the tourism appeal of a country, which includes multiple factors (e.g. landscapes, culture, shopping, ease of access, price, etc.). If no fundamental changes to these factors occur, or if the safety of travelling is not a concern, the political context usually has little influence in the choice of a destination. In addition, in Switzerland, winter is considered an off-season for travellers from the Middle East.

So far, the results of yesterday’s vote have been commented in a balanced manner by the media in Arab and Islamic countries. In the Gulf countries, the Dubai crisis is currently overshadowing all other issues.

The Swiss population, particularly those active in the tourist sector, are now more than ever required to demonstrate their hospitality and tolerance towards all cultures and groups of faith.”

And there you have it.