Mr. Morand Put It on His Roof, Shined Spotlights on It and Thumbed His Nose
BUSSIGNY, Switzerland — In November, Switzerland voted to ban the construction of new minarets, the towerlike structures that adorn mosques. A week or so later, in an apparent act of defiance, a new minaret unexpectedly sprang up here.
But the new minaret is not attached to a mosque; this small town near Geneva doesn’t even have one. And it’s not the work of a local Muslim outraged by Switzerland’s controversial vote to ban the structures, which often are used to launch the call to prayer.
Instead, Bussigny’s minaret is attached to the warehouse of a shoe store called Pomp It Up, which is part of a Swiss chain. It was erected by the chain’s owner, Guillaume Morand, who fashioned it out of plastic and wood and attached it to a chimney. The new minaret, nearly 20 feet high and illuminated at night, is clearly visible from the main highway connecting Lausanne and Geneva.
“The referendum was a scandal,” Mr. Morand said recently at his cavernous warehouse, near pallets piled high with shoe boxes as pop music played on an old stereo system. “I was ashamed to be Swiss. I don’t have the power to do much, but I wanted to give a message of peace to Muslims.”
Mr. Morand’s provocation has attracted national interest as Switzerland grapples with the fallout of the referendum. On Nov. 29, 58% of Swiss voters approved the ban on new minarets, thus sparking a fresh debate around the world over the integration of Muslims in Western society. While civic and religious leaders in many Muslim countries denounced the ban, the feared backlash against Swiss interests around the world hasn’t materialized.
In Switzerland, the debate over the referendum is still hot. On Dec. 13, hundreds of Swiss Muslims protested the vote in Bern, the capital. According to Swiss legal experts, it is next to impossible to contest the outcome of a referendum. Indeed, on Dec. 18, a Swiss federal court refused to hear a plea by two Swiss citizens to nullify the vote.
But one Swiss Muslim leader has already requested that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, consider whether the ban violates international law on freedom of expression and freedom of religion.