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 symbolise 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.
Thomas Rufener, the town’s mayor, said about eight per cent of Langenthal’s residents were Muslims. “All the main parties have given their approval for the mosque,” he said. The regional canton of Bern has given approval in addition for the construction of a domed mosque. That will stand alongside the planned minaret which will be little more than 30 feet high.
An anti-minaret campaign has now lodged a formal complaint with the canton, claiming that the planned mosque amounts to an “ideological intrusion”. Daniel Zigg, a campaign spokesman, said the building would attract more than 100 Muslim believers a day during the Ramadan fast because it was the only one of its kind in the canton.
The anti-minaret campaigners are hoping to force Bern to rescind its approval for the minaret and score an important victory in the run-up to the November referendum. “There may be different laws governing this kind of thing in certain part of Paris or Berlin, but we don’t want them in Switzerland,” Mr Schüler said.
Two years ago his party fought a general election with famously xenophobic campaign posters depicting a flock of white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland.