Sarkozy defends Switzerland minaret ban

Nicolas Sarkozy today voiced sympathy for Switzerland’s controversial decision to ban the building of Muslim minarets, calling on religious practitioners to avoid “ostentation” and “provocation” for fear of upsetting others.

The French president said he was surprised by the widespread criticism of the outcome of last week’s referendum in Switzerland when 57% voted to proscribe the building of new minarets in a country that has four, and is home to 400,000 Muslims.

Sarkozy’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, promptly denounced the Swiss decision last week, saying he was shocked and scandalised and calling for the ban to be reversed.

But writing in the Le Monde newspaper, Sarkozy defended the Swiss in arguing for the necessity of the contentious debate on national identity he has sponsored in France.

“How can you not be amazed at the reaction that this decision has produced in certain media and political circles in our own country,” Sarkozy said. “Instead of condemning the Swiss out of hand, we should try to understand what they meant to express and what so many people in Europe feel, including people in France.”

Guardian, 8 December 2009