The rise of mosques becomes catalyst for conflict across Europe

Posted on October 11, 2007

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Ian Traynor in Wangen, Switzerland
Thursday October 11, 2007
The Guardian

North of Berne in an idyllic Alpine valley cowbells tinkle, a church steeple rises, and windowboxes tumble with geraniums. It has always been like this. But down by the railway station the 21st century is rudely intruding and the villagers of Wangen are upset.

“It’s the noise, and all the cars. You should see it on a Friday night,” complains Roland Kissling, a perfume buyer for a local cosmetics company. “I’ve got nothing against mosques, or even against minarets. But in the city. Not in this village. It’s just not right. There’s going to be trouble.”

The target of Mr Kissling’s ire is a nondescript house belonging to the region’s Turkish immigrant community. The basement is a prayer room where hundreds of Muslims gather every week for Friday rites. And in a case that has gone all the way to Switzerland’s supreme court, setting a keenly watched precedent, the Turks of Wangen have just won the right to erect a six-metre-high minaret.

“We’ll build it by next year. We’re still deciding what colour and what material,” says Mustafa Karahan, the sole person authorised to speak for Wangen’s Turkish Cultural Association. “We don’t have any problems. It’s the other side that has the problems. We’re not saying anything else until the minaret is built.”

If Ulrich Schlüer has his way the Wangen minaret will be toppled. An MP from the rightwing Swiss People’s party (SVP), the country’s strongest, Mr Schlüer has launched a crusade to keep his country culturally Christian.

Unlike other religions,” he argues, “Islam is not only a religion. It’s an ideology aiming to create a different legal system. That’s sharia. That’s a big problem and in a proper democracy it has to be tackled. If the politicians don’t, the people will.”

Switzerland’s direct democracy rules require referendums if there is enough public support. Mr Schlüer has launched a petition demanding a new clause in the Swiss constitution stating: “The building of minarets in Switzerland is forbidden.” He already has 40,000 signatures. If, as expected, he reaches 100,000 by this time next year a referendum is automatically triggered.

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