So much for Democracy and Freedom of Religious expression.
Swiss voters have supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, official results show.
More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons – or provinces – voted in favour of the ban.
The proposal had been put forward by the Swiss People’s Party, (SVP), the largest party in parliament, which says minarets are a sign of Islamisation.
The government opposed the ban, saying it would harm Switzerland’s image, particularly in the Muslim world.
The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes, in Bern, says the surprise result is very bad news for the Swiss government which also fears unrest among the Muslim community.
Our correspondent says voters worried about rising immigration – and with it the rise of Islam – have ignored the government’s advice.
“The Federal Council (government) respects this decision. Consequently the construction of new minarets in Switzerland is no longer permitted,” said the government in a statement, quoted by the AFP news agency.
Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the result reflected fear of Islamic fundamentalism.
“These concerns have to be taken seriously. However, the Federal Council takes the view that a ban on the construction of new minarets is not a feasible means of countering extremist tendencies,” she said.
She sought to reassure Swiss Muslims, saying the decision was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture”.
Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims and has just four minarets.
After Christianity, Islam is the most widespread religion in Switzerland, but it remains relatively hidden.
There are unofficial Muslim prayer rooms, and planning applications for new minarets are almost always refused.
Supporters of a ban claimed that allowing minarets would represent the growth of an ideology and a legal system – Sharia law – which are incompatible with Swiss democracy.
But others say the referendum campaign incited hatred. On Thursday the Geneva mosque was vandalised for the third time during the campaign, according to local media.
Before the vote, Amnesty International warned that the ban would violate Switzerland’s obligations to freedom of religious expression.
The president of Zurich’s Association of Muslim Organisations, Tamir Hadjipolu, told the BBC that if the ban was implemented, Switzerland’s Muslim community would live in fear.
“This will cause major problems because during this campaign in the last two weeks different mosques were attacked, which we never experienced in 40 years in Switzerland.
“So with the campaign… the Islamaphobia has increased very intensively.”
Sunday’s referendum was held after the People’s party collected 100,000 signatures from eligible voters within 18 months calling for a vote.
SVP member of parliament Ulrich Schluer said the campaign had helped integration by encouraging debate. He rejected the charge of discrimination.
In recent years many countries in Europe have been debating their relationship with Islam, and how best to integrate their Muslim populations.
France focused on the headscarf, while in Germany there was controversy over plans to build one of Europe’s largest mosques in Cologne.
The Islamophobes reaction is one of jubilation. Robert Spencer comments, “Swiss apparently vote to ban minarets, Because they symbolize a “political-religious claim to power” — which, of course, they do.”
Of course Pamela Geller wouldn’t be outdone by Spencer, she writes in a post titled Victory! Swiss Ban Mosque Minarets in a Landslide Vote,
HAMMER THEIR HELMETS! BLUNT THEIR BAYONETS! (metaphorical reference to no more mosques)The Swiss have hand enough. They actually had the spine to take back their country.
Further Reading on the story: Minaret Ban Wins Swiss Support