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.
Entrepreneur Guillaume Morand stands in front of the minaret he had built in Bussigny, Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Mr. Morand's gesture has rallied Swiss citizens upset by the vote. There are only four minarets in Switzerland, the most prominent one in Geneva. Only four of Switzerland's 26 cantons, or states, voted against the referendum, including Vaud, the canton in which Bussigny is located. Bussigny, a sleepy commuter town of 8,000 just five miles from Lausanne, voted 52% against the ban. Bussigny has three Christian churches but no mosque, so the roughly 150 Muslims of the town must travel to Lausanne in order to worship in a mosque.
When the referendum passed, the ban on the construction of new minarets instantly became Swiss law, but the government didn't define exactly what constitutes a minaret. The law simply bans the construction of new ones. A parliamentary report outlining the issue before the vote says a minaret can exist without a mosque and without any religious function. Indeed, one of Switzerland's four existing minarets is a free-standing structure not attached to a mosque.
Mr. Morand, a Lausanne native who does not actively practice any religion, decided the day after the vote to build his minaret.
His business partner, an architect by training, searched the Internet for the right style of minaret, settling on one common in Turkey. After discarding a first design because it would have weighed 770 pounds , he settled on a second that used a large slice of a hard plastic tube to make the base. He fashioned a cap from pressed wood and painted it gold, topped by a gold crescent.
It took Mr. Morand's workers half a day to raise the 265-pound minaret up four floors and over the lip of the roof. He then installed two 500-watt spotlights to light it at night.
As Mr. Morand, who has been making shoes since 1989, and his team set the minaret into place, the police, alerted by a neighbor, arrived. They took photographs and quickly left.
Mr. Morand, a wiry 46-year-old who goes by the nickname Toto and dresses in jeans and a leather jacket, has dipped his toe into political causes before, taking out newspaper ads opposing the expansion of an incinerator with the slogan "Lausanne is not a trash bag." He has also refused to travel to the U.S. since the start of U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Pomp It Up minaret, however, stands as his biggest political statement yet. The reserved Swiss have largely not confronted him, though he has received some nasty letters. "Are these the sort of wonderful Muslims you're defending?" wrote a man from Geneva, enclosing a newspaper clipping on fiery sermons by radical imams in Switzerland. Mr. Morand proudly shows off the letter.
Instead, news of Mr. Morand's minaret brought out supporters. A Muslim doctor from Geneva sent chocolates. "Thank you for restoring my faith in Switzerland," wrote an admirer on a postcard bearing an image of a minaret.
"It's great," Tawfiq El Maliki, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Lausanne, said of the minaret. "A lot of people didn't agree with the vote and they're searching for a way to show how they feel."
Even though Mr. Morand's minaret seems to be in violation of the law, local authorities are trying not to see it that way. The police never came back after their visit, and local prosecutors don't plan to file charges. A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said it has no plans to take legal action against Mr. Morand. The ministry views the minaret as a temporary structure.
Claudine Wyssa, the town's acting mayor -- who called Mr. Morand's action infantile -- doesn't think the do-it-yourself project qualifies as a minaret and plans no legal action.
"It doesn't violate the law," she said in an interview. "It has nothing to do with Islam. A minaret needs a mosque. In this case, there isn't one. There's just a shoe warehouse."
Mr. Morand doesn't plan to remove the minaret. "I'm leaving it up," he says. "If they want to come and take it down themselves, I won't fight it. But I'll take photos of them doing it and send them to the media. Then they'll have to take responsibility for it." In the meantime, he has added several new spotlights to his roof to better show off his handiwork.