Swiss voters narrowly back ‘burqa ban’

Published March 8, 2021
A campaign poster, in favour of the "burqa ban" initiative reading in German: "Stop extremism!" is seen in Biberen near Bern on Sunday. — AFP
A campaign poster, in favour of the "burqa ban" initiative reading in German: "Stop extremism!" is seen in Biberen near Bern on Sunday. — AFP

GENEVA: Swiss voters on Sunday narrowly backed a ban on full face coverings in public places — a decision hailed by supporters as a move against radical Islam, but branded sexist and racist by opponents.

Official results showed that 51.21 percent of voters, and a majority of federal Switzerland’s cantons, supported the proposal.

Some 1,426,992 voters were in favour of the ban, while 1,359,621 were against, on a 50.8 percent turnout.

The so-called anti-burqa vote comes after years of debate in Switzerland following similar bans in other European countries — and in some Muslim-majority states — despite women in Islamic full-face veils being an exceptionally rare sight in Swiss streets.

Even though the proposal “Yes to a ban on full facial coverings” did not mention the burqa or the niqab — which leaves only the eyes uncovered — there was no doubt as to what the debate was about.

Campaign posters reading “Stop radical Islam!” and “Stop extremism!”, featuring a woman in a black niqab, have been plastered around Swiss cities.

Rival posters read: “No to an absurd, useless and Islam­ophobic ‘anti-burqa’ law”.

The ban would mean that nobody could cover their face completely in public — whether in shops or the open countryside.

But there would be exceptions, including for places of worship, or for health and safety reasons.

The vote came at a time when face masks are mandatory in shops and on public transport due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Yes vote risks “trivialising the xenophobic and racist atmosphere” towards Muslim women, Meriam Mastour, of the Purple Headscarves feminist group, told broadcaster RTS.

Very few women wear the full veil in Switzerland, she stressed, and those that do tend to be converts and tourists.

A 2019 Federal Statistical Office survey found that 5.5 percent of the Swiss population were Muslims, mostly with roots in the former Yugoslavia.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Mohamed Hamdaoui, a regional lawmaker in the Bern canton and the founder of the “A Face Discovered” campaign.

He called the vote “the opportunity to say stop to Islamism” and not “to Mus­lims, who obviously have their place in this country”.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2021

Opinion

For whom the clock ticks
Updated 22 Apr 2021

For whom the clock ticks

Tarin will have to succeed in order to cement his position within the cabinet.
Ending the ‘forever war’
Updated 21 Apr 2021

Ending the ‘forever war’

Regardless of who the adversary was at any point, two generations of Afghans have known only war.

Editorial

22 Apr 2021

Capping power debt

THE suggested revision in the Circular Debt Management Plan, which aims to cap the flow or addition of new debt to...
22 Apr 2021

Istanbul postponement

WHILE the postponement of the Istanbul peace talks on Afghanistan, which were scheduled to be held later this week,...
22 Apr 2021

No mining precautions

YET another accident caused by a methane gas explosion has been reported from the dangerous coal mines of...
More mishandling
Updated 21 Apr 2021

More mishandling

By its bad decision-making and weak management, the govt has allowed the TLP to garner more importance and heft than it deserves.
21 Apr 2021

Declining FDI

THE sharp decline in FDI in recent months is worrisome. New State Bank data shows that FDI has plummeted by a hefty...
21 Apr 2021

The digital divide

IN the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Inclusive Internet Index report, measuring internet inclusion in terms...