Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi turned up the heat in his country’s dispute with Switzerland on Thursday, calling for jihad against it over a ban adopted last year on the construction of minarets.
“It is against unbelieving and apostate Switzerland that jihad (holy war) ought to be proclaimed by all means,” Kadhafi said in a speech in the Mediterranean coastal city of Bengazi to mark the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.
“Jihad against Switzerland, against Zionism, against foreign aggression is not terrorism,” Kadhafi said.
“Any Muslim around the world who has dealings with Switzerland is an infidel (and is) against Islam, against Mohammed, against God, against the Koran,” the leader told a crowd of thousands in a speech broadcast live on television.
In a November 29 referendum, Swiss voters approved by a margin of 57.5 percent a ban on the construction in their country of minarets, the towers that are a signature part of mosques.
Relations between Libya and Switzerland have been strained since July 2008 when Kadhafi’s son Hannibal and his wife were arrested and briefly held in Geneva after two domestic workers complained he had mistreated them.
The row escalated when Libya swiftly detained and confiscated the passports of two Swiss businessmen, Rashid Hamdani and Max Goeldi. It deepened again last year when a tentative deal between the two countries fell apart.
Both men were convicted of overstaying their visas and of engaging in illegal business activities. Hamdani’s conviction was overturned in January, and he has now returned home, while Goeldi surrendered to authorities this week and is now serving a reduced sentence of four months.
Adoption of the minaret ban was opposed by the Swiss government, the bulk of Switzerland’s political parties and the economic establishment and was an unexpected outcome.
The move drew widespread criticism, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay calling the ban “deeply discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take.”
The Swiss government sought to assure the country’s 400,000 Muslims, who are mainly of Balkan and Turkish origin, that the outcome was “not a rejection of the Muslim community, religion or culture.”
Switzerland has around 200 mosques, with just four minarets among them.