Symbol or real problem ?: Swiss people vote on burqa ban

Symbol or real problem?
Swiss vote on burqa ban

By Cigdem Akyol, Zurich

The construction of minarets in Switzerland has been banned since a referendum. On this Sunday, the Swiss will decide whether they want to make wearing face veils a punishable offense.

The posters hang all over the country: You can see a woman in front of a red background, veiled with a black Nikab, she is wearing black sunglasses. “Stop extremism! Prohibition of concealment Yes” reads in large letters on it. Another poster shows a woman wearing a Nikabart next to an unveiled woman with long hair. In addition the slogan “Emancipation instead of material prison”.

When the vote “Yes to the ban on veiling” is voted on in Switzerland on Sunday, the decision will primarily be made on religiously veiled clothing such as the nikab – a face veil – and the burqa – the full-body veil. That is why the initiative is popularly known as the “burqa ban”, although the planned sanctions not only concern religious veils but also disguises during demonstrations, for example.

The initiative aims to prohibit the wearing of face coverings in public spaces. These include, for example, traffic, shops, but also the great outdoors. Churches and sacred places are not affected. Anyone who breaks the rule should pay a fine in the future. There should also be no exceptions for tourists, for example from the United Arab Emirates. For this reason, the Swiss Tourism Association fears losses and rejects a ban on covering. “A burqa ban at national level could damage Switzerland’s image as an open tourist country,” the association wrote in a press release. However, the initiative provides for exceptions when it comes to health. Mouth and nose protection, as is now the case during the corona pandemic, would be allowed. The same applies to helmets for safety reasons or for face coverings due to climatic conditions, for example when it is cold. Carnival masks, which are part of Swiss customs, are also allowed.

The arguments of the proponents are mostly that it is a question of safeguarding women’s rights and that Switzerland’s liberal values ​​must be defended. In addition, a signal should be sent that political Islam will not be tolerated. The opponents, on the other hand, find that a liberal society does not need any dress code and that bans on veiling can be implemented at cantonal level anyway. In addition, there is no problem with burqa wearers in Switzerland, it is a matter of purely symbolic politics.

Only 20 to 30 women wear a nikab

“In enlightened countries like Switzerland, free people look each other in the face when they talk to one another,” writes Anian Liebrand, member of the right-wing conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and coordinator of the Yes Committee, in a guest article in the “Luzerner Zeitung”. Rona Bolliger, co-founder of the women’s committee DonneFemmesWomen, replies that this is an argument that contains a certain comedy, especially during a pandemic. The non-partisan women’s group is campaigning against the burqa ban. “There are situations in which free people look each other in the face, and moments in which it is even necessary to be veiled. Personally, I advocate the freedom of choice for every single person,” says Bolliger.

In the two cantons of Ticino and St. Gallen, concealment bans already apply. In St. Gallen since 2019, since then no woman has been punished for wearing a religious garment, writes the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”. In Ticino, where the ban came into force in 2016, there were around 30 sanctions according to Swissinfo. According to federal estimates, between 95 and 130 women in Switzerland wear a face covering. A survey by the religious researcher Andreas Tunger-Zanetti comes to the conclusion that only around 20 to 30 women in Switzerland wear a Nikab. Most of them are socialized in the West, average to very well educated and wear the Nikab out of their own conviction, according to the study by the University of Lucerne.

It is such an infinitesimally small minority that the question arises as to why this vote is actually needed. “For some years now we have seen a radicalization of Islam in public spaces,” argued the SVP National Councilor Jean-Luc Addor in an interview with Swissinfo. This phenomenon can be seen in the fact that more and more women in Switzerland are covering themselves up. “We want to do prevention before we can no longer master the problem,” said Addor.

“Every woman should be able to live according to her style”

The initiative pretends to solve a problem that does not even exist, criticizes the Islamic scholar Rifa’at Lenzin. She is against a burqa ban: “Because it encroaches on religious freedom and thus the fundamental rights of the women concerned. Because it is absolutely bizarre to introduce dress codes in the 21st century and tell women what they are allowed to wear and what not. ” Lenzin does not want to accept the argument, which is also put forward by left-wing feminists, that this is a procedure against a full veil that is oppressive to women: “The fact that a face veil is supposed to be oppressive to women per se is an attribution from the outside that women, who wear it voluntarily, is probably not shared. So whether the full veil is oppressive to women is in the eye of the beholder, “she says. “For my part, I cannot understand that as a feminist one can approve of the curtailment of women’s fundamental rights. A compulsion to unveil is a compulsion. Every woman should have the right to be able to live according to her style and to wear what she wants, even if it’s a Nikab. “

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Advertising against the burqa ban on Bärenplatz in Bern.

(Foto: picture alliance/KEYSTONE)

The “Yes to the ban on veiling” initiative was launched by the so-called Egerking Committee around SVP National Councilor Walter Wobmann. “We fight parallel societies and the religiously motivated infiltration of the Swiss rule of law. In addition, we educate the population about the extent and consequences of the Islamization of Switzerland,” writes the association on its homepage. This committee was already successful in 2009 with the popular initiative “Against the building of minarets”. With the support of the SVP and the Christian-national-conservative Federal Democratic Union (EDU), the initiators landed a political coup that made international headlines. Around 57.5 percent of the electorate voted yes, although the vote had previously been rejected by most parties, the churches and Muslim associations. Since then, the construction of minarets has been constitutionally prohibited in Switzerland.

Trend has shifted

The current initiative is also supported by the SVP and the EDU, the social democratic SP, Greens, the Christian-democratic CVP and the liberal FDP are against it. “The initiators capitalize on the widespread rejection and skepticism towards Islam and Muslims,” ​​criticizes Islamic scholar Lenzin. “As with the minaret ban, it should be shown that Islam does not belong to our society and is incompatible with our values.”

What is now being hotly debated in Switzerland already exists in other European countries. Three examples: France was the first European country to introduce a ban on covering in April 2011. Belgium followed in the same year, and Bulgaria has also been prohibited from covering one’s face in public since 2016.

A few weeks ago it looked as if Switzerland would also introduce a burqa ban, but the trend has now shifted. According to a survey by Swiss television at the end of February, 49 percent of those questioned wanted to vote yes, while 47 percent are against.

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