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Sunday 21 December  
Protestors agaisnt the vote Photo: EPA/Laurent Gillieron 2009
Paddy Maguire's picture
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Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, Switzerland

Wilders calls for minaret referendum

Published on : 30 November 2009 - 5:05pm | By Paddy Maguire
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As religious leaders and politicians around speak out to condemn the Swiss referendum on the banning of minarets, right-wing Dutch MP Geert Wilders says he would welcome a similar vote in the Netherlands.

57.5 percent of Swiss voters favour an end to the construction of the towers on mosques, a result that has sparked outrage from Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Intolerance
France's foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said the outcome was an unacceptable “expression of intolerance”. The Vatican has joined Muslim leaders in expressing dismay and concern over the referendum.
 
The Swiss government itself opposed the poll (organised by the largest party in parliament, the Swiss People’s Party) but said in a statement that it accepted the decision.

Alain Deletroz, himself a Swiss national, is the director of the International Crisis Group. He told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that he thought it was a big mistake to hold a referendum like this and that he expects the rest of the world to send a tough message to Switzerland.

“There will be boycotting of Swiss exports to Muslim countries and Swiss Muslims will not stay quiet and those that have filed demands to build mosques with minarets may pursue those demands in the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg.”

Exploiting tensions
He says that in many countries in Europe politicians are exploiting religious tensions and cited Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders as an example. Mario Borghezio, a euro-MP for Italy’s Northern League has also called for a similar referendum.

“The point is the irresponsibility of some politicians. It is a disgrace that a referendum like this was even organized over a question like this,” said Mr Deletroz.

Moroccan Muslims in the Netherlands have expressed similar concern over both the result and the fact that the referendum was allowed to happen in the first place.

Cat and mouse
Mohammed El Aissati is the chairman of Stichtig Maroc, a foundation representing the Netherlands' Moroccan community. He says the reaction among his community has been one of unpleasant surprise and that the question posed was not as direct as it could have been.

“If they had asked ‘are you against freedom of religion, yes or no?’ that would have been a clear question…it’s kind of playing hide and seek…in Europe I would say if you appeal to this fear of Islam you would get the same result. I think it’s very dangerous to travel this road of giving unrealistic fears a political stage.”

Mr El Aissati says that while democracy isn’t a perfect system, it should not be abused by people who use it for their own political advantage. 

“We should have a debate about where we draw the line. In a democracy you can imagine a situation where the majority want things that are bad for human rights, or freedom of speech or religion, but are still democratically chosen or elected. I think there’s a problem there. How do we react when populist individuals abuse the system for their own gain?”

He observes in the past, parties with negative agendas have got into power by abusing the democratic system.

“I don’t have a clear answer on how to act about that. When a situation like that is happening, how should we respond to that as a society?”

While the result of this referendum may highlight the imperfections of the democratic system, the Swiss government has been struggling to contain the national and international backlash by attempting to reassure its 400,000 Muslims that the vote was not a rejection of Muslim beliefs and culture.

In the face of such a vote, it may be hard for them to read it any other way.

Listen to the Newsline interview with Mohammed El Aissati

Discussion

David Berridge 2 December 2009 - 4:35pm / Canada
Geert is just looking for another excuse to justify any place he can get on the Dutch political spectrum. If he feels so strongly about this issue, why didn't he think of it before instead of plagerizing the Swiss? Prior to this he simply made the demands of he and his party upon the government and society, now Geert wants a referendum to decide this one particular topic. Doesn't Geert trust the traditional Dutch general electoral process anymore? This is a classic tactic of a populist party to make an emergency of an issue before a general election in which it must contest the power of the government of the day. Where and what is the urgency here? Will countless minuttes be constructed before the next general election? This is simply Geert highjacking a foreign vote to rule outside of representative government. The Swiss havemaintained a stable society through the responsible use of referenda, where as Geert desires to change the stability of the Netherlands' government into a state of hysteria.
jasmin 2 December 2009 - 1:36pm / India
INDIA SHOWS THE WAY:September 29th, 2009 NEW DELHI - The Supreme Court Tuesday banned all unauthorised new and future construction of places of worship on public land and sought strict compliance of its order from the union and state governments. A bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Mukundkam Sharma also asked various governments to decide the fate of millions of existing unauthorised places of worship on public land “on case to case basis”. The bench issued its order after Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian said the union government in consultation with state governments had evolved a consensus that no unauthorised place of worship should be allowed to be built on any public land in future. In a meeting of state chief secretaries with union Home Secretary G.K. Pillay on Sep 17, it was also decided that the government would take a decision on the fate of existing places of worship on public land and streets on a case to case basis, Subramanian told the bench. The government had convened the meeting following the apex court’s July 31 observation, asking for a complete stop to the public nuisance. “The solicitor general will file an affidavit to ensure that no temple, church, mosque or gurudwara is constructed on a public street or a public space,” the bench had demanded on July 31. It was hearing a lawsuit by the union government challenging a Gujarat High Court judgement of 2006, ordering the demolition of several places of worship of various faiths that had mushroomed illegally on thoroughfares and other public places. The high court ruling, however, had been suspended earlier by the apex court on May 2006 on an urgent lawsuit by the union government. With the bench seeking the union government’s assurance on the issue, the solicitor general had pointed out that land was a state subject. He than had assured the court that he would ask the centre to evolve a consensus on the tricky issue. The bench has also ordered district magistrates, collectors or commissioners all over the country to report compliance of its order to their respective chief secretaries, who would in turn report to the court.
Abdul Okaka 2 December 2009 - 10:24am / Netherlands
After banning minarets, why doesn't Mr. Wilders also move to ban the importation of oil from Muslim Saudi Arabia and Iran. What nonesense! In the end, we will all have to learn to live together as humans on this planet or destroy one another. Thank goodness for progressive America, a beacon to the rest of the world, where ideas are valued irrespective of their origin. Such is the future, not increasingly isolationist and inward-looking Europe. Shame on the Swiss.
sandrav 2 December 2009 - 9:58am / Nederlands
I call for a referendum on TRADE, NATO. For all non EU citizens with their businesses, NON EU products and money to leave EU and take your money out of Eu fast! Go invest instead into USA, Canada and Turkey, Morocco. For all Muslim countries and all other Eu countries to boycott xenophobia European Union and let them all learn what it is like to be isolated and left in the cold! And fellow jews out there, this isn´t only about Islamophobia, it is the anti immigration and anti Non EU discrimination that has been building up and going on too long. You should remember what our ancestors went through during the holocaust, how our rights were taken away one by one. First the jews, Now it is the Muslims, who next after the Muslims ? I have already seen the discrimination against anyone that is not a Eu citizen. I say, stop all investments into EU and Nato, let them get what they have been asking for, Isolation and no help from outside EU. USA, turkey, Morocco and Canada should drop nato and form their own military super power. They may need it in the future incase EU starts another halocaust.
Mazhar 1 December 2009 - 5:35pm / Canada
Banning of building minarets shows how close minded 'some' of our fellow citizens are in the understanding of culture and religion. Sometimes a minority of close minded people takes over the whole country i.e., the Bush era that leaves the whole nation under heavy financial and ethical debt. And it takes decades to come out of the debt. Hitler was also a proud catholic european who spoke of his interpretation of Christianity as a central motivation for his antiSemitism. Now we're witnessing a new wave of antiCrescentism in Europe. Hopefully, Switzerland is not following the suite. I must admit that similar breed of hatred also exist in a minority of Muslims. It's our common obligation to define a world where ethics rule and close mindedness cease to exist.
Hiram 1 December 2009 - 7:49pm / usa
"It's our common obligation to define a world where ethics rule and close mindedness cease to exist.".....Ethics can be defined as "a set of moral principles.".......Question to you, Mazhar: "Who is going to set what is ethic and what is not? Islam says that women must wear Burqas. Is it ethical to suppress women in this manner? Is it ethical to cut off a person's hand if they steal? In Europe, they, the populace (by their laws) states it not ethical to execute people who have murdered innocent humans but at the same time find it ethical to abort/kill babies or euthanize people who are severely depressed. Who is determines what is morally good for the world? Our elected leaders like Wilders, Chavez, Castrol, Blair or the Pope in Rome are the ones who will do it and they are just as debased as the rest of the world. {Mazhar, you are right about our obligations but it will never happen.
anonymous 1 December 2009 - 1:13pm / globe
AKAmsterdam, i hope you will regret your words, at least a decade from now, when all you will have:Dutch Muslims...
AKAmsterdam 1 December 2009 - 12:59pm / netherlands
I call for a referendum on Wilders - should he jump into a canal and stay there? If more than 50% think he should, he's got to do it (PS he can keep talking while he's in the canal).
Anonymous 1 December 2009 - 1:53am / Lalaland
Architecture is the art of how to waste space, and every man is his own doctor of divinity in the last resort.

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