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Mon., May. 25
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Minaret ban

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Religious intolerance and fear won out in Switzerland's deplorable referendum to ban construction of minarets.

Pushed by a right-wing party, the referendum was approved by more than 57 percent of Swiss voters Sunday. The minarets became the most visible symbol of Islam in a growing backlash against the religion and Muslim immigration in Europe.

Minarets are used to call Muslims to prayer, but fears of Islamic extremism and scare tactics by ban supporters equated minarets with violence and Islamic practices that did not meet popular approval, such as wearing the body-covering burqa.

One campaign poster depicted minarets rising like missiles from the Swiss flag.

The ban prohibits future construction of minarets while leaving the four existing ones in place. It would be comparable to barring construction of church steeples in the United States or even the ringing of church bells; that would be considered religious discrimination or bigotry.

Outrage was quick to come from around the world.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called the referendum the product of "anti-foreigner scare-mongering."

The Council of Europe said the ban raised concerns about whether "fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes."

Rather than counter Islamic fundamentalism as intended, the ban risks provoking extremists by causing anger.

The Swiss government had opposed the ban and now has to enforce it, but the country's justice minister said it contradicts the European Convention on Human rights.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference, called the ban an "example of growing anti-Islamic incitement in Europe by the extremist, anti-immigrant, xenophobic, racist, scare-mongering ultra-right politicians who reign over common sense, wisdom and universal values."

The ban could still be overturned on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

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