Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

From the Telegraph:

While the SVP’s anti-immigrant campaigns, including calls to ban minarets and expel foreign criminals, have drawn sharp criticism on the international arena including from the United Nations, the party has managed to increase its vote share in successive Swiss elections.

In 2003, the party obtained 26.6 per cent of votes case. At the last elections that improved to 28.9 per cent.

Those 1997 results were the highest for any Swiss party since the introduction of the proportional representation system in 1919, an SVP spokesman said.

Crossing the 30 per cent mark “would therefore be a new record,” he added.

The latest opinion polls showed 29.3 per cent of voters planning to back the SVP, far more than the next most popular party the Socialists, with just 19.9 per cent…

by Pinchas Goldschmidt, for the New York Times:

BRUSSELS — It is perhaps ironic that a country that has prided itself on centuries of neutrality should suddenly seek a religious conflict while the home of liberty should seek to tell people how to dress.

Nonetheless, the decision taken by the good burghers of the Germanophone cantons in Switzerland to vote in large majorities in support of a referendum calling for a ban on minarets when there are virtually none in their own eye-range disguises an alarming identity crisis in Europe.

True, Switzerland has long made its own rules. Some cantons delayed women’s suffrage until the latter part of the 20th century while an earlier, pre-First World War manifestation of Swiss intolerance saw the country ban its Jews from slaughtering their own meat — a ban that remains in place today.

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Image by Michel Gangne/Agence France-Presse

by Steven Erlanger, for the New York Times:

MARSEILLE, France — The minaret of the new Grand Mosque of Marseille, whose cornerstone will be laid here in April, will be silent — no muezzin, live or recorded, will disturb the neighborhood with the call to prayer. Instead, the minaret will flash a beam of light for a couple of minutes, five times a day.

Normally, the light would be green, for the color of Islam. But Marseille is a port, and green is reserved for signals to ships at sea. Red? No, the firefighters have reserved red.

Instead, said Noureddine Cheikh, the head of the Marseille Mosque Association, the light will almost surely be purple — a rather nightclubby look for such an elegant building.

So is this assimilation? Mr. Cheikh laughs. “I suppose it is,” he said. “It’s a good symbol of assimilation.”

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by Ross Douthat,  for the New York Times:

They toasted to progress in Europe’s capitals last week. On Tuesday, the Treaty of Lisbon went into effect, bringing the nations of the European Union one step closer to the unity the Continent’s elite has been working toward for over 50 years.

But the treaty’s implementation fell just days after a milestone of a different sort: a referendum in Switzerland, long famous for religious tolerance, in which 57.5 percent of voters chose to ban the nation’s Muslims from building minarets.

Switzerland isn’t an E.U. member state, but the minaret moment could have happened almost anywhere in Europe nowadays — in France, where officials have floated the possibility of banning the burka; in Britain, which elected two representatives of the fascistic, anti-Islamic British National Party to the European Parliament last spring; in Italy, where a bill introduced this year would ban mosque construction and restrict the Islamic call to prayer.

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by Tariq Ramadan, for the Guardian:

It wasn’t meant to go this way. For months we had been told that the efforts to ban the construction of minarets in Switzerland were doomed. The last surveys suggested around 34% of the Swiss population would vote for this shocking initiative. Last Friday, in a meeting organised in Lausanne, more than 800 students, professors and citizens were in no doubt that the referendum would see the motion rejected, and instead were focused on how to turn this silly initiative into a more positive future.

Today that confidence was shattered, as 57% of the Swiss population did as the Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC) had urged them to – a worrying sign that this populist party may be closest to the people’s fears and expectations. For the first time since 1893 an initiative that singles out one community, with a clear discriminatory essence, has been approved in Switzerland. One can hope that the ban will be rejected at the European level, but that makes the result no less alarming. What is happening in Switzerland, the land of my birth?

There are only four minarets in Switzerland, so why is it that it is there that this initiative has been launched? My country, like many in Europe, is facing a national reaction to the new visibility of European Muslims. The minarets are but a pretext – the UDC wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but were afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned their sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol.

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by Charles Brenner for Times Online:

After keeping invaders at bay for two centuries the Swiss are about to vote on what many see as the enemy within: their growing minority of Muslims.

On Sunday, the calm little nation at the heart of Europe will decide whether to approve a constitutional ban on building minarets, the spires that are often attached to mosques.

The issue arose when Mutalip Karaademi, a Muslim leader in the town of Langenthal, north of Berne, suggested a modest tower for the local mosque. The mayor supported what would have been only the fifth minaret in Switzerland — but it was blocked by opponents who want to halt what they see as inroads by political Islam in the world’s oldest democracy.

“They think we are animals, when we are normal people just like they are, not a threat to anyone,” said Mr Karaademi, who arrived 27 years ago from Albania. “They call us new names every day . . . terrorists and Islamists,” he told The Times.

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