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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

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Swiss Minarets: Tolerance Test For Europe?

November 30, 2009 - 9:14 AM | by: Greg Burke

Voters in Switzerland have passed a referendum banning the construction of minarets on mosques.

Switzerland currently only has four minarets, so the vote was largely symbolic, but it reflects growing fears about Muslim integration in Europe.

The referendum could have repercussions throughout the continent. In Italy, representatives from the anti-immigrant Northern League celebrated the surprising result  with glee.

“The forest of minarets, a dangerous symbol more of the threat of Islamic terrorism than a place of prayer, won’t change the countryside of the ancient fatherland of federalism and of freedom,” exulted Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament from the Northern League. “Switzerland forever white and Christian.”

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen and professor of Islamic studies at Oxford, was worried about the results, in which more than 57 percent of the Swiss voted for the ban.

“The Swiss majority are sending a clear message to their Muslim fellow citizens,” Ramadan wrote in The Guardian. “We do not trust you and the best Muslim for us is the Muslim we cannot see.”

Ramadan argued that the minarets were simply a pretext to target Muslims, and that different European countries have different symbols by which to go after Islam: the burqa in France; mosques in Germany; and homosexuality in the Netherlands.

“While European countries and citizens are going through a real and deep identity crisis, the new visibility of Muslims is problematic—and it is scary,” Ramadan said.

In Geneva, Babacar Ba, the representative at the UN for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the result denies the right to religious freedom: “This vote is an open door to the dangerous process of calling fundamental freedoms into question.”

Christians have often deplored the lack of religious freedom in some Islamic countries, while mosques have sprouted up over Europe, including a very visible one in Rome, home to the Vatican.

Giovanni Maria Vian, editor of the Vatican newspapter, the Osservatore Romano, said Pope Paul the VI approved the construction of the mosque in Rome as an example of religious freedom.

“Reciprocity can be understood like this,” said Vian, “a common challenge to encourage tolerance and freedom of worship wherever.”

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