By Rachel Slajda
A Swiss politician has apologized today for calling for a ban on Jewish and Muslim cemeteries two days after the country voted to outlaw minarets on mosques.
â€œI am sorry. I didnâ€™t mean it like that,â€ said Christopher Darbellay, president of the Christian Democratic Peopleâ€™s Party of Switzerland, a centrist party and the smallest member of the government coalition.
â€œIt was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society,â€ he added.
In his call for the ban, Darbellay said, â€œI donâ€™t imagine that in this country, every religion or sect can have a separate cemetery in every town. It wouldnâ€™t be manageable to make these exceptions. … Principle requires that one does not distinguish on the basis of origin or religion.â€
Darbellay has also called for a ban on burkas or veils worn by some Muslim women.
Switzerland made international headlines Sunday when residents voted to add a line to their constitution banning the construction of minarets, or prayer towers, on mosques. The initiative, backed by the right-wing Swiss Peopleâ€™s Party, passed by more than 57 percent of voters.
â€œThe minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over,â€ said one SPP politician.
The Swiss have a long history of trying to keep their culture free from the influence of both Muslim and Jewish immigrants.
In 1893, Switzerland banned the practice of shechitah, the kosher way of slaughtering animals, citing cruelty because the animals are not stunned first. Although the government opposed the measure, a group called the Anti-Semite Committee gathered more than 83,000 signatures to bring it to a referendum.
Even now, Jews and Muslims must import their kosher and halal meat from neighboring countries. In recent years, some groups have gone farther, trying to ban even its import. In 2003, for example, the Swiss Animal Protection group began a campaign to ban its import, but failed.
Six other European countries join Switzerland in banning the practice: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The European Union recognized such slaughter earlier this year and declared kosher and halal meat can be sold in every country, but did not go so far as to legalize the slaughtering practice throughout the EU.
Much of the xenophobia in Switzerland seems rooted in the belief that immigrants will not assimilliate into Swiss culture. In 2006, the citizenship application of a Turkish woman and religious teacher was rejected because she didnâ€™t want to integrate into society.
Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in Europe, sparking culture clashes throughout the continent. In France, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban the burka on the grounds that such veils oppress women.