Swiss Minaret Ban May Be Reversed

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The Swiss ban on the iconic towers on Muslim mosques known as minarets may soon be struck down by the country's supreme court or by the European Court of Human Rights.

Swiss voters recently approved the ban on new minarets by a wide margin. The ban does not apply to the country's existing four minarets and it does not prohibit Muslims from free expression of their religion.

However, criticism from Islamic countries, the United Nations and the European Union is putting pressure on the Swiss to find a way to overturn the vote.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said Sunday's referendum to outlaw the construction of minarets in Switzerland was the product of "anti-foreigner scare-mongering."

"These are extraordinary claims when the symbol of one religion is targeted," Pillay said in a statement. She said she was saddened to see xenophobic arguments gain such traction with Swiss voters despite their "long-standing support of fundamental human rights."

The Swiss government opposed the law, but has defended it as not an action against Islam or Muslims, but as an effort to improve integration and fighting extremism.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the government was worried about the ban.

"We are very concerned with this referendum. The reality of our societies in Europe and throughout the world is that each limitation on the coexistence of different cultures and religions also endangers our security," Calmy-Rey said during a meeting of foreign ministers of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"Provocation risks triggering other provocation and risks inflaming extremism," she added.

Calmey-Rey said Muslims were accepted in Swiss society and the people's decision would not change the Swiss government's foreign policy, which calls for close relations with Muslim nations.

"Swiss Muslims are well integrated and will continue to attend the 200 mosques in the country," she said.

The minister said if an appeal against the referendum is lodged at the European Court of Human Rights, it would be up to the court to decide on its legality.



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