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Swiss minaret vote and vague fears about Islam

General concern about creeping Islamic power, rather than a critical national problem with mosques, appears to have produced the Swiss minaret vote banning construction of the towers.

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Europe and its Muslim residents have enough problems with each other that Europe doesn't need to manufacture new ones. Yet that's what the Swiss have done by voting in a referendum Sunday to ban the building of new minarets at Islamic mosques.

Not that tensions don't exist. But unlike Spain and Britain, Switzerland hasn't been bombed by Islamic terrorists. Unlike France, it hasn't watched disadvantaged immigrant neighborhoods, home to many Muslims, explode in violent riots. Unlike Denmark, it hasn't sparked global protests over "Muhammad cartoons" published in a newspaper or, as with the Netherlands, lost a famous and outspoken filmmaker to a gruesome murder carried out by a Muslim extremist.

Switzerland has had a relatively peaceful coexistence with its roughly 400,000 Muslims – many of them Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians, and Turks. They worship almost invisibly in about 200 mosques, only four of which have minarets. Burqas are rarely seen on the streets. No one has seriously moved to set up sharia law.

And yet what started as a local concern about a mosque and minaret was whipped into a national campaign by right-wing and ultraconservative parties. Following the script of fear-mongering hyperbole, they warned against the Islamization of Switzerland (Muslims make up about 4 percent of the population), against burqas and sharia, and against Islamic power and extremism.

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