The normally sleepy Swiss country town of Langenthal has become the focus of a virulent right-wing campaign to ban minarets from all mosques in the Alpine republic on the grounds that they symbolize ideological opposition to the country’s constitution. Switzerland’s “stop minaret” movement is backed by the influential ultra-conservative Swiss People’s Party, (SVP) which was re-elected in 2007 with its largest-ever share of the vote after mounting an anti-foreigner campaign that was denounced by the United Nations as racist. Ulrich Schüler, an SVP parliamentarian and leading member of the anti-minaret movement, says the edifices are political rather than religious. “They are symbols of a desire for power, of an Islam which wants to establish a legal and social order fundamentally contrary to the liberties guaranteed in our constitution,” he said. Switzerland is home to a population of about 400,000 Muslims, the majority of whom are Turks, Bosnians and Albanians. The “stop minaret” campaign was launched two years ago, prompting a national debate on the subject. A petition in support of its aims has since been signed by more than 100,000 citizens. Under Swiss law the issue now has to be decided by a national referendum which will be conducted in late November. However, before then, the “stop minaret” campaign is hoping to create a legal precedent by thwarting construction of a minaret in Langenthal, a provincial town halfway between Bern and Basel that is home to 14,000 people and 11 churches.
Swiss referendum on minarets
Campaigners denounce the towers as "symbols of Islamic power"