Cultural Revolutions

Swiss Minarets

Swiss voters approved a constitutional amendment banning the construction of new minarets last November, to the howls of bien-pensant rage at home and abroad.  The proposal was supported by 57.5 percent of the participating voters and 22 of the 26 Swiss cantons.  It was originally drafted in May 2007 by a group of conservative politicians, known as the Egerkingen Committee, after the federal supreme court overrode the objections of the local community and approved the construction of a minaret by the Turkish Cultural Association in the northern town Wangen bei Olten.

The ensuing campaign by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) at the local level against the erection of new minarets was blocked by cantonal authorities who claimed that the demands were unconstitutional.  A federal popular initiative was launched instead; such initiatives, which require at least 100,000 signatures, are not subject to judicial review.  The Eger­kingen Committee argued that the construction of a minaret has no religious meaning: “Neither in the Qur’an nor in any other holy scripture of Islam is the minaret expressly mentioned.  It is more a symbol of [a] religious-political power claim.”  The initiators quoted an eminent Islamist, current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who declared in a 1997 speech that “mosques are our barracks, domes our helmets, minarets our bayonets, believers our soldiers—and...

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