Swiss: mosques become catalyst for conflict

October 11, 2007, Guardian Unlimited

If Ulrich Schlüer has his way the Wangen minaret will be toppled. An MP from the rightwing Swiss People's party (SVP), the country's strongest, Mr Schlüer has launched a crusade to keep his country culturally Christian.

"Unlike other religions," he argues, "Islam is not only a religion. It's an ideology aiming to create a different legal system. That's sharia. That's a big problem and in a proper democracy it has to be tackled. If the politicians don't, the people will."
Switzerland's direct democracy rules require referendums if there is enough public support. Mr Schlüer has launched a petition demanding a new clause in the Swiss constitution stating: "The building of minarets in Switzerland is forbidden." He already has 40,000 signatures. If, as expected, he reaches 100,000 by this time next year a referendum is automatically triggered.
"We've got nothing against prayer rooms or mosques for the Muslims," he insists. "But a minaret is different. It's got nothing to do with religion. It's a symbol of political power."
In a country with more than 300,000 Muslims, mainly immigrants from the Balkans, there are only three minarets in Switzerland. Wangen would be the fourth and the first outside the cities.

The native backlash has begun. And not just in Switzerland. "It seems our experience here is resonating across Europe," says a Swiss official in Berne.

"Culture clashes" over Muslim religious buildings have erupted in Italy, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands ...

But in Wangen ...
"First it was a cultural centre, then a prayer room, and now a minaret," says Mr Kissling. "It's salami tactics. The next thing it will be loudspeakers and the calls to prayer will be echoing up and down the valley. Our children will ask 'what did our fathers do', and their answer will be - they did nothing."

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