Tags: EU | Swiss | minaret | ban

Europe Riled by Swiss Minaret Ban Vote

Tuesday, 01 Dec 2009 09:55 AM


The decision by Swiss voters to ban minarets on Muslim houses of worship resonated across neighboring France on Monday, stoking an already emotional debate on whether burkas should be banned in public and coloring a government-sponsored debate over what it means to be French.

Commentators and officials in France and across Europe took sides Monday on the surprise Swiss decision, passed in a referendum the previous day. French lawmakers who support banning the burka, the all-covering garment worn by some Muslim women, defended themselves against accusations that the move would fuel a growing phobia against Islam in Europe.

French Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said the Swiss decision in effect blamed Muslims for "all of Western society's ills," and compared it to the three-month-long public debates on French identity spearheaded by conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I regret that the president is surrendering himself to this type of stigmatization of foreigners and immigrants by associating national identity and immigration," Hamon said on RTL French radio.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who is organizing the nationwide debates, said the Swiss ban on minarets stigmatized Islam. Instead, he said, "We need to favor the emergence of a French Islam that integrates into the values of the republic."

He added that trying to ban the burka was not comparable because "it affects a woman's dignity." In comments to French media, Xavier Bertrand, general secretary of Sarkozy's political party, referred to the burka as a "prison."

After Sarkozy said this summer that the burka was "not welcome in France," a parliamentary panel has been studying whether it should be banned. Meanwhile, the debate over French identity is being conducted through town hall meetings and Internet forums.

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