On March 7, during referendum, 51% of voters in Switzerland cast their vote in favor of a ban on people covering their faces completely in shops, restaurants and the streets. However, full face veils will be permitted inside places of worship and for ‘customs’. It should be noted that covering the face for health and safety reasons will not be affected by the ban. That means wearing a mask in a situation like the Covid-19 pandemic is exempt from the law.
End the result on Sunday showed that of the country’s 26 cantons, only six rejected the initiative. Turnover is slightly over 50% which is above average. Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter said that only a small proportion of the Muslim female population wears such a veil in Switzerland. The results should not be seen as a “vote against Muslims” blanket. He welcomed the fact that several Muslim voices were taking part in the campaign and noted that some of them even supported the ban.
The proposal was introduced by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP). They campaign for proposals with slogans such as “Stop Extremism”. Apart from Switzerland, several other countries such as France, Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium and Denmark have done so prohibited headscarves in public places.
Opposition and criticism of the hijab ban
The Swiss Parliament and the seven members of the executive board which is the federal government of the country against referendum proposal. They have instead proposed an initiative to force people to remove their faces when asked to confirm their identities to government officials.
Muslim groups have also criticized the ban. Calling the referendum a ‘dark day’ for Muslims, the Central Muslim Council said, “Today’s decision opens old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality, and sends a clear signal to isolate the Muslim minority.” It further said that the decision would be challenged in court by the group.
Ines Al Shikh, a member of the feminist group Les Foulards Violets, said the decision was an attack on the Swiss Muslim community. “What is meant here is to further stigmatize and marginalize Muslims.”
Some hoteliers and tourism professionals, especially from Berne and Geneva, who frequent tourists from Arab countries, fear the decision could hurt their business. Nicole Brändle Schlegel of the umbrella organization HotellerieSuisse said doing so would damage the country’s reputation as an open and tolerant tourism destination.
This ban is for everyone without an explicit mention of the burqa
Proponents of the ban don’t see it as an attack on anyone’s freedom. The referendum text does not explicitly mention Islam or the burqa, or niqab. They suggested that a face mask ban would stop violent street protesters and football rioters from wearing masks. In particular, their campaign mentions the role of Islam in public life.
SVP campaign to ban Islamic symbols
The initiative to ban face coverings was introduced by the Egerkingen Committee in 2016. It is linked to the populist right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP). Same organization managed to push for a vote to ban the construction of new minarets in 2009. Back then, the SVP said that mosque minarets were a sign of Islamization. During the campaign against face covering, the advert showed a woman wearing a niqab and sunglasses with the slogan “Stop extremism. Yes to the veil ban.”
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