IRAN: Outrage, and a warning, over Swiss vote to ban minarets


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An East-West clash over a Swiss referendum last week banning the construction of mosque minarets heated up today as Iran’s foreign minister warned of unspecified ‘consequences’ if the ban were enforced.

Manouchehr Mottaki spoke on the phone with his Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey. Switzerland and Iran generally have good relations. The Swiss serve as Washington’s representative in the Iranian capital in the absence of formal relations between America and the Islamic Republic, giving them exalted status in Tehran’s diplomatic circles.


But Mottaki had harsh words for Switzerland, saying enforcement of the ban on new minarets was “against the prestige of a country which claims to be an advocate of democracy and human rights’ and would ‘damage Switzerland’s image as a pioneer of respecting human rights among Muslims’ public opinion,’ according to a report by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA.

The Swiss ban on minarets, a feature of Islamic mosques, has roiled the Muslim world. The Swiss government has said it would abide by the vote even though the government and parliament had opposed the referendum.

Iran’s population is 90% Shiite Muslim. But it permits construction of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, though some Sunni Muslims have complained they have a tough time building houses of worship in some parts of the country.

“Values such as tolerance, dialogue and respecting others’ religions should never be put to referendum,” Mottaki told his Swiss counterpart. He expressed hope that Bern would soon “take necessary steps and find a constitutional way to prevent imposition of the ban.”

An Iranian cleric today also condemned the minaret ban. Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamadani, said the move was ‘at odds with the protection of Muslim citizens’ civil rights and will hurt the feelings of Muslims across the world,’ according to Iran’s state television.

Calmy-Rey told Mottaki her government would ‘use all its means to support Muslims rights,’ according to IRNA.


-- Borzou Daragahi in New York