Switzerland recently passed a controversial referendum to ban minarets in the country, provoking uproar, intense debate and even protest. The move is regarded by many as “deeply divisive,” says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, as well as a major setback for American and European public diplomacy in the Arab world.

Sweden, which currently holds the presidency of the European Union, commented that the United Nations “should reconsider its presence in Geneva,” according to an Associated Press article. “Even if this is Switzerland, it sends a very unfortunate signal to large parts of the rest of the world about attitudes and prejudices in Europe,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his blog. He continued to observe that the ban is a “poor act of diplomacy” from the Swiss, whose neutrality on globally divisive issues is renowned.

Analysts and commentators are also pointing to the ban as a serious complication for dialogue with Muslims around the world, even among those who are non-practicing, because the minaret is largely seen as a symbol of Arab and Muslim identity.

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