Switzerland Votes for ‘Burka Ban’

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The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland has vowed to pay fines for women who choose to wear the niqab. They have created a donation pool, which has raised £3,553 so far.

The official results in Sunday’s referendum showed that 51.2% voted in favour of banning full facial coverings in public places. The ban was initially proposed by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which aggressively advocates for right-wing, conservative social policy.

For many voters in Western Europe, the main area of concern is migration. According to Fair Observer, Switzerland is among the countries with the highest ratio of foreigners in Western Europe. In some cities, such as Basel and Geneva, foreigners make up more than 30% to 40% of the resident population.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) elected Marco Chiesa as their new leader in August 2020. Chiesa has previously stated that: “I don’t want to have to watch how Swiss families suffer from the burden of millions of immigrants from the European Union.”

But it is under the guidance of former SVP leader and billionaire Christopher Blocher that the SVP started to really promote its anti-Islam agenda. Blocher was also Swiss Justice Minister from 2004-2007. 

The Central Council of Muslims has stated:

Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority.”

They have said they will challenge the decision in court.

There was no specific mention of Islam in the proposal, which also aims to stop protestors from wearing masks. However, it has been dubbed the ‘burka ban’ due to posters by the Swiss People’s Party with obvious anti-Muslim rhetoric featuring a woman in a black niqab with captions of “Stop extremism!” and “Stop Radical Islam.” Opponents of the ban used the slogan “No to an absurd, unnecessary and Islamophobic ‘anti-burqa’ law.” 

Earlier this year, the Swiss government in Bern declared its opposition and stated full-face coverings were rare. In fact, according to the University of Lucerne (in German) only around 30 women wear the niqab in Switzerland, and no woman currently even wears the burka. Also, in Switzerland “wearing a face mask is compulsory when travelling on public transport, on platforms and in waiting areas, as well as at airports. Failure to do so is punishable by a fine.”  So full facial coverings will be allowed to justifiably prevent the spread of COVID-19, be worn inside places of prayer, and for “native customs,” such as carnival. 

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“It is a mockery that the [Swiss People’s party] played itself up as the saviour of women in the referendum campaign,” said parliamentarian Tamara Funiciello, co-president of the Swiss Social Democratic party’s women’s movement. “This party considered marital rape as not problematic, denies wage inequality, and opposes, still today, any improvement of the situation of women in this country and internationally.”

The Swiss ban follows similar bans in France, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, and Bulgaria. The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) called the result a “big disappointment for all Muslims born in Switzerland and who grew up here.”

Farah Ulucay, the secretary-general of the ICCS, said the vote “has succeeded in anchoring the widespread Islamophobia in Switzerland in the constitution.”

In response as well, the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland has vowed to pay fines for women who choose to wear the niqab. They have created a donation pool, which has raised £3,553 so far.

This is not the first time that Islam has been targeted in the Swiss referendum. In Switzerland’s direct democracy system, any proposal can be put to a national vote if it gains 100,000 signatures. In 2009, 57% of Swiss voters supported a referendum proposal to ban the building of minarets, believing it to be a sign of “Islamisation”.  

It’s important to highlight this ‘burka ban’ won by a very narrow margin – 2.4%. The Swiss government and critics have expressed their disapproval and publically defended Muslim women’s rights branding it Islamophobic and sexist. 

This buzzword, ‘Islamisation’, is an example of xenophobia, which is being used by the SVP to create fear and justify division. Muslims only make up 5% of Switzerland’s 8.6 million population, and this latest vote clearly aims to ostracise Muslim women. It was ironically announced the day before International Women’s Day. A ‘burka ban’ in Europe does not liberate women who freely choose to cover themselves, by forcing them to compromise their religious beliefs.

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