Fatih Akin protests Swiss minaret ban

Cancels trip to Switzerland to promote "Soul Kitchen"

COLOGNE, Germany -- Director Fatih Akin has canceled a trip to Switzerland to promote his new film, "Soul Kitchen" in protest of the recent Swiss referendum vote banning the construction of minarets in the country.

"This referendum conflicts with my understanding of humanism, tolerance and the belief that harmonious co-existence of peoples of differing backgrounds, races and religions must be possible," Akin said in an open letter explaining his decision not to attend the planned "Soul Kitchen" premiere in Zurich Dec. 16.

More than 57% of Swiss voters backed a proposal last month to ban the building of minarets on mosques in Switzerland. A right-wing party gathered the signatures necessary to force a referendum on the issue. Public referendums are a cornerstone of Swiss law and override the wishes of the Swiss parliament and main political parties, all of which opposed the minaret ban.

The result has been internationally condemned as racist and xenophobic. Switzerland is home to some 400,000 Muslims. Akin was born in Hamburg, Germany of Turkish immigrant parents.

"As a child of Muslim parents who do not see minarets as symbols of political Islam but rather simply the complete architecture of their houses of worship, I feel personally affected by the referendum. That is why I refuse to travel to Switzerland," Akin said in his letter.

The clash of cultures in European societies has been the subject of many of Akin's films -- most prominently in "Head-On" (2004) and "The Edge of Heaven" (2007). He takes a lighter look at multiculturalism in "Soul Kitchen," a feel-good comedy that won the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival in September.

"Soul Kitchen's" Swiss distributor Monopole Pathe said it "respected" Akin's decision but declined further comment. The Zurich premiere of "Soul Kitchen" has been canceled in favor of a low-key series of "lunch screenings" to promote the film.

So far there has been no major official protest from the Swiss film community in response to the referendum.