Switzerland narrowly voted to ban full facial coverings such as burqas and niqabs in most public spaces on Sunday. CNN reports that 51.2 percent of Swiss voters supported the new law. It is important to note that the “referendum text does not explicitly mention Islam or the words ‘niqab’ or ‘burqa’.” However, that is what is meant.
I support the ban on burqas for two reasons. First, and most importantly, an individual can hide all sorts of things under a burqa, anything from a weapon to their identity. In a world where acts of terrorism are becoming a regular occurrence, people can’t be allowed to wear a garment that covers up their identity.
Secondly, immigrants should make an effort to assimilate into the culture and customs of their new country.
The ban does not apply to health and safety masks worn for protection against COVID-19. Moreover, full facial veils may still be worn “inside places of prayer and for ‘native customs’, such as carnival.”
According to The Guardian, “Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council that constitutes the country’s federal government opposed the referendum proposal. They argued that full facial veils represented a “fringe phenomenon”, and instead proposed an initiative that would force people to lift their facial coverings when asked to confirm their identity to officials.”
Many groups are critical of the ban. Ines Al Shikh, a member of Les Foulards Violets, a Muslim feminist collective, told the Guardian, “This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland. What is aimed here is to stigmatize and marginalize Muslims even more.”
The Swiss Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organizations issued a statement that read, “This symbolic policy is directed against female and male Muslims. But it also damages the whole of Switzerland, which has undermined its own values by accepting the initiative.”
A commerce organization of hotel owners and tourism professionals expressed concern that it would “reduce the number of visitors from Arab countries.” Nicole Brändle Schlegel of the Hotellerie Suisse umbrella organization said the ban would “damage our reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination.”
The Guardian reports:
The initiative behind the referendum was launched in 2016 by the Egerkingen Committee, an association that also successfully pushed for a vote to ban the building of new minarets in 2009, and which has links to the populist rightwing Swiss People’s party.
Campaign ads it paid for showed a woman wearing a niqab and sunglasses alongside the slogan: “Stop extremism! Yes to the veil ban.”
A video on the Swiss government’s website explaining the arguments in favor of a ban proposed that “religious veils like the burqa or the niqab are a symbol of the oppression of women and aren’t suitable to our society”.
The Ticino and St Gallen cantons already have local bans on face coverings. Three other cantons rejected such proposals. Face coverings at protests and sports events are already banned in 15 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons.
A recent study by the University of Lucerne put the number of women in Switzerland who wear a niqab at 21 to 37, and found no evidence at all of women wearing the burqa, which women were forced to wear in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
In Ticino, where a ban on full facial veils was introduced in 2016, it has since led to around 30 police interventions.
Muslims make up around 5% of the Swiss population of 8.6 million, or about 390,000 people, most of whom have their roots in Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.
The referendum outcome means Switzerland will follow France, which banned wearing a full-face veil in public in 2011. Full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public are also in place in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark and the Netherlands.
Shortly before becoming UK’s prime minister, Boris Johnson came under fire for saying that women dressed in burqas look like “letter boxes.”
Johnson wrote an op-ed in “The Telegraph” in response to Denmark’s newly passed legislation banning women from wearing burkas. Johnson said that although burkas are “oppressive and ridiculous” and that they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers,” women should be able to wear them if they choose to.
I wrote about that story here.