Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Europe's press says Swiss ban sends wrong signal

European papers are dismayed by Switzerland's popular vote to ban the building of minarets. Some fear it will backfire, sending the wrong signal to the Muslim world and setting a precedent for other parts of Europe.

Several papers criticise the type of democracy practised in Switzerland, which allows ordinary people rather than elected representatives to decide on such matters. However, one popular Swiss tabloid defends the ban as a starting point for a debate on tolerance.

Thomas Kirchner in Germany's SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG
This referendum is a disaster for Switzerland. Such a ban on construction exists nowhere else in Europe. If those six words - 'the construction of minarets is forbidden' - are in the constitution in the future, they will violate... freedom of religion and the prohibition of discrimination. They also blatantly violate the European Convention of Human Rights.

Ultra-democratic, cosmopolitan, tolerant: this is how the Swiss have always liked to see themselves. But, in voting to ban any further building of minarets, the country has now revealed other traits: traits that testify to bigotry, timorousness, and a wish to isolate themselves.

Mathieu von Rohr in Germany's SPEIGEL ONLINE
The ban will damage Switzerland's credibility as a mediator in the eyes of Muslim countries, whether it be as a diplomatic representative of the US in Iran or in the conflict between Armenia and Turkey. And finally it will cause massive damage to the relationship between the Swiss and the Muslims living in the country, promoting exactly that isolation from the rest of society which the initiative was supposedly intended to address.

Editorial in Denmark's POLITIKEN
The signal has been sent. There is now a European country which openly acknowledges that it does not tolerate the sight of the symbols of a major religion. The fact that the decision will benefit completely the wrong forces in both the Muslim minority in Europe and in the Muslim world is self-evident.

Editorial in Denmark's BERLINGSKE TIDENDE
The moment we resort to special bans on religious symbols - including the building of minarets - we have also lost our belief in our own cultural foundation... Self-respect is the first step on the path to mutual respect - religious bans, on the other hand, are the complete opposite: undemocratic, un-Christian and un-Danish.

Taha Akyol in Turkey's MILLIYET
This is a sign that when the masses become authoritarian, democracies too can easily become authoritarian.

Erdal Safak in Turkey's SABAH
Demands to build minarets have already been refused systematically. That's why only four of 200 [Swiss] mosques have minarets. Despite that, the two extreme rightist parties aimed to legalise the ban, which was actually being applied, by making it a matter of referendum. Their intention was to gather political credit through an enmity against Islam by exploiting the public fear. And they have succeeded.

Editorial in Spain's EL PAIS
The danger today is of allowing... legitimate public concern to be monopolised by populist or far-right parties. Their toxic language has little to do with integration and a lot to do with fear.

Michel Lepinay in France's PARIS-NORMANDIE
No-one today could guarantee that if asked the same question, the French would have rejected a planned ban on minarets. Who thinks the death penalty would have been abolished if the French had decided in a referendum? In our democracy, the people's elected representatives are there to take decisions on their behalf and to shoulder the unpopularity that may ensue.

Dominique Garraud in France's LA CHARENTE LIBRE
The lesson of the Swiss minarets vote is valid for all democracies: its absurdity shows the dangers of referendums known as 'popular initiatives', a blessing and a fearsome weapon for all extremists who know how to surf the irrational fears of public opinion.

Christoph Wehrli in Switzerland's NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG
The minaret provided a symbol for the threatened state of our identity, and banning it sent a message about who is in charge. In that respect, the initiators managed to pull off a stroke of genius. 'If it makes no difference, it can do no harm,' many of those voting 'Yes' will have told themselves. However, some harm to the climate of coexistence and to Switzerland's already damaged reputation is inevitable.

Ralph Grosse-Bley in Switzerland's BLICK
Should we be ashamed of the 'Yes' vote for a ban on minarets? No, we are not ashamed! The 'Yes' vote was not a 'No' to freedom of religion, not a 'No' to making people feel welcome, and not a 'No' to people of Muslim faith. The decision is an exclamation mark that means: We have to talk! About the causes of the fear of Islamisation. About the fact that tolerance cannot be a one-way street.

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