swiss minaret ban protest 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Citing religious discrimination, a diverse coalition of Jewish organizations is objecting to Switzerland's ban of minarets on local mosques.
Swiss voters this week approved by a strong majority a referendum outlawing the construction of minarets. The measure, pushed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), was supported by 57 percent of the population.
However, Jewish organizations, realizing that a crackdown on Islam could have repercussions for Jews as well, have come to the defense of Muslim worshipers, arguing that the Swiss's move was unjustifiable.
Rabbi Pinchas Dunner, executive director of the Conference of European Rabbis, an Orthodox organization, said "a war on religious freedom cannot defeat Islamic extremists. The best weapon against radical Islam is support for moderate elements in the Muslim community and promoting interfaith dialogue."
In contrast, the Anti-Defamation League tied the move to religious discrimination against Jews.
"This is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance," said the ADL in a press release. "A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter, in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population."
Noting that the "Swiss government opposed the initiative during the campaign and underscored its commitment to religious freedom in a statement after the vote," the ADL urged Swiss leaders to "be vigilant" in their "defense of religious freedom, even though the SVP is the largest party in the Swiss Parliament and has two of the seven government ministries."
The American Jewish Committee's David Harris echoed these statements. "The referendum result amounts to an attack on the fundamental values of mutual respect," he said.
"While there are certainly understandable concerns in Europe over Islamist extremism, these cannot be legitimately addressed through a blanket assault on Muslim communities and their religious symbols," he added.
Meanwhile, it appeared that Italy might hold an anti-minaret referendum of its own.
Roberto Caldeoli, leader of Italy's right-wing Northern League party, said, "Respect for other religions is important, but we must put the brakes on Muslim propaganda, or else we will end up with an Islamic political party."
French Ambassador Christophe Bigot told The Jerusalem Post that "Muslims, like Catholics, like Jews, should be allowed to worship the way they wish. So why limit construction of mosques?
"What is important in Europe is to work for moderate Islam, for an Islam that is based on education, openness and freedom. The decision of the Swiss state will be to limit the activities of the worshipers.
"I don't think this is very helpful. This promotes the idea that we have a problem with Muslims. We don't have problem with Muslims. We have problem with Islamists, and Islamists and Muslims are two radical differences. And this kind of decision blurs the lines."
Asked if France's ban on the burka was not the same, Bigot answered, "A minaret is part of the mosque, and the Muslims go to the mosque if they are religious. A very small percentage of women wear the burka. And here we are talking about a very, very isolated minority among Muslims."
Asked if the burka ban was an infringement of religious freedom, Bigot replied that "religious freedom has to be combined with the duties of every citizen, and among the duties of every citizen - this is the French perception - there is kind of a minimum agreement of shared values, and among them is that every woman has the same rights as every man.
"And, as we know, the burka most times is imposed on women by men. So just from this perspective we don't think burka is appropriate. This is not a free act, it is an imposed situation placed on them."
Asked if the minaret ban could spread to other European countries, Bigot said that "the issue is different in France. The discussion we have is how do you finance the construction of mosques, and how do you create a national Islam.
"How much are we able to curb the influence of foreign countries on Islam in France. This we think is a valid debate, because we want a French Islam; we don't want an Islam that is importing values form parts of the world completely disconnected from European values."
Hegumen Filaret (Bulekov), a Moscow Patriarchate representative at the Council of Europe, voiced support for Switzerland's ban.
"Accusing Switzerland that it is somehow discriminating against the Islamic minority would be at least lopsided," Filaret told Interfax new service.
"The issue of minarets is not an issue of religious freedom, but it is an issue of political presence of people of a certain faith and ethnic background in a country. Taking into account a rapid rate of Islamization, visible signs of Muslims' presence would have, in particular, a political tint," he said.