Switzerland has followed France, Belgium and Austria after narrowly voting in a referendum to ban Muslim women from wearing the full-face covering burqa or niqab in public spaces, including on the street, on public transport and in shops and restaurants. The controversial proposal gained the support of only 51.21% of voters and the majority of the country’s 26 cantons, according to official provisional results published by the federal government.
Middle East Eye The referendum had been put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which campaigned with slogans such as “Stop extremism” and framed the referendum as a verdict on the role of Islam in public life.
Ahead of the vote, Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee and an SVP lawmaker, described Muslim face coverings as “a symbol for this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland”.
In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms,” he said.
Switzerland’s parliament and the seven-member executive council that constitutes the country’s federal government had opposed the referendum proposal. They had 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. The only exceptions include places of worship and other sacred sites.
The Swiss Council of Religions, which represents all major religious communities in Switzerland, condemned the proposal earlier this year, stressing that the human right to religious freedom also protects religious practices such as dress codes. A leading Swiss Islamic group called it “a dark day” for Muslims.
“Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” the Central Council of Muslims said in a statement.
“This is clearly an attack against the Muslim community in Switzerland,” said Ines Al Shikh, a member of Les Foulards Violets, a Muslim feminist collective. What is aimed here is to stigmatise and marginalise Muslims even more.”
Amnesty International spoke out against the ban, calling it “a dangerous policy that violates women’s rights, including to freedom of expression and religion.” (Too bad, if they don’t like it, they can leave)