Faith communities condemn Swiss minaret ban

Regents Park Mosque, London

Regents Park Mosque, London

The decision by the referendum in Switzerland to ban minarets has been condemned by faith community representatives and Ken Livingstone.
The referendum was proposed by the far right Swiss People’s Party and gained 57.5% of the vote, despite opposition from the Swiss government, Church leaders and the Vatican.  The Swiss People’s Party utilized imagery and campaigns that whipped up hostility against Muslims in the run up to the referendum. 
Switzerland currently has only four minarets on Mosques.
Bruce Kent, Vice President of Pax Christi said: "I am dismayed at this decision which is manifestly discriminatory. As a Christian, I live in an area where we have a beautiful mosque and minaret which cause no offence to anybody and contributes to the beauty of the environment."

Dr Abdul Bari, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain said: “The Swiss referendum results today show how far and how quickly Europe is moving in the wrong direction in its attitudes and policies towards Muslims and other minority groups in Europe. Mosques and minarets in our European cities are manifestations of the proudly indigenous nature of Islam in Europe. 

"It is tragic that the Far Right is stripping away at our illustrious heritage of coexistence between different faiths and cultures in Europe and replacing it with their warped and xenophobic outlook.  The rise in anti-Muslim prejudice that has accompanied the Swiss opposition’s campaign will further exacerbate Muslim fears.

"The results today sets a dangerous precedence and demands that Muslims and others must work hard and diligently against the Far Right to reject their venomous 'Islamisation' platform. This is no less than a battle of ideas for the future of a plural and progressive Europe”.

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality said: “It is a very sad day when such an important religious symbol is put to the vote. That anyone should even consider this is unbelievable.  This could have very dangerous consequences, sending out the wrong message to the rest of the world.  Far from cementing positive relations between people, this can only sew division and disharmony.   I hope that common sense prevails, this decision is reversed and building a cohesive society in Switzerland is taken up with renewed vigour.”

Ken Livingstone said: "The ban on minarets in Switzerland, a country that only has four minarets, is an attack not only on Muslims, but on the most basic freedoms in society.  It has come off the back of the electoral growth of the far right in Switzerland.   If this had been a similar ban on Synagogues or Church spires, it would have been rightly met with revulsion. Yet across Europe we are seeing intimidation and attacks against Muslims and others by emboldened fascists who are using Islamophobia to grow.

Here, Nick Griffin was given a national TV appearance on Question Time to promote prejudice against Muslims. The far right made gains in Europe in the first half of the last century by demonising and attacking Jewish people.

Let this referendum be a rallying call for all democrats - we must challenge Islamophobia and racism if we are to stop the far right."

One Society Many Cultures was launched in parliament last week with speeches from  Ken Livingstone, Rt. Hon Sadiq Khan MP – Minister for Transport, Simon Hughes MP, Emily Thornberry MP, Susan Kramer MP, Dr Abdul Bari – Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain, Rabbi Lee Wax - Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Bruce Kent - Vice President of Pax Christi, Dabinderjit Singh OBE - Sikh Secretariat, Anas Altikriti - British Muslim Initiative, Billy Hayes - General Secretary of Communication Workers Union, Diana Holland - Assistant General Secretary UNITE, Jenny Jones - Green Party London Assembly Member, Salma Yaqoob - Leader of The Respect Party, Pav Akhtar - Chair of Imaan, Weyman Bennet - Love Music Hate Racism, Sabby Dhalu - Unite Against Fascism.

The campaign issued the following statement at the launch:

One society, many cultures

‘We believe that our most fundamental human rights include the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and cultural expression.

These universal rights must be defended for all groups in society. They are increasingly threatened by legitimacy given to intolerance in the mainstream political and media arenas, by the election of representatives of the racist extreme right to public office and by demonstrations on the streets.

It took hundreds of years of struggles, including international and civil wars, to establish the freedoms of religious and cultural expression and these must be vigorously upheld subject only to the proportionate protection of the human rights and freedoms of others.

These freedoms are essential to the cohesion of our one society with many cultures which is Britain today. To allow these rights to be threatened or attacked for any one group in our society inevitably undermines their universality for the whole of society.

We believe that at this time it is necessary for democrats, of all faiths and none, to come together to defend these fundamental freedoms, which are the cornerstones of liberal and democratic society.'

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