On Sunday, citizens in Switzerland voted to support a referendum banning the wearing of face coverings in public settings, including those that are worn for religious purposes.
According to CNN, “[t]he controversial proposal gained support of 51.21% of voters and the majority of the country’s 26 cantons, according to official provisional results published by the federal government.” It includes a ban on niqabs and burqas when worn in public settings.
One of the groups behind the proposal was the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), described as “right wing” according to BBC reporting. The party pushed for the proposal using slogans like “Stop extremism.”
The people who are against the ban point out that “it appears to be mostly pointless,” according to CNN. Andreas Tunger-Zanetti is a researcher at the University of Lucerne who has reportedly “been studying Islam in Switzerland since 2007.” According to Tunger-Zanetti’s’ new book, almost no one in the country wears a burqa and the amount of people who wear a niqab is at most 36.
BBC reported on the minority muslim community, as well, stating that around “5% of Switzerland’s population of 8.6 million people are Muslim, most originating from Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo.”
The Central Council of Muslims said in a statement, “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 group said that it would bring a challenge against the recent vote to the courts.
Amnesty International also criticized the outcome, describing it as “anti-Muslim.” The group said in a statement on Sunday, “Swiss voters have once again approved an initiative that discriminates against one religious community in particular, needlessly fueling division and fear.”
The Swiss government was reportedly also against the ban, and said that the state could not decide how women are allowed to dress.
There are a few exceptions to the ban, namely that people can still cover their faces in locations of worship and “other sacred sites.” The face coverings will also be permitted if they need to be worn because of health and safety issues, reasons related to the weather, or when it is seen as “local custom,” according to the proposal that was put forth by the Swiss federal government. There are reportedly no other exceptions, including no allowance for tourists.
According to BBC, the proposal included in the referendum was focused on “stopping violent street protesters from wearing masks.” It was also put forth before the pandemic took hold and led to the requirement of mask-wearing in different situations. While the language in the document did not specifically include the topic of Islam, it has been referenced as “the burka ban.”
CNN reported that the two Swiss cantons of St. Gallen and Ticino “have already introduced a ban on full facial coverings in the past, according to the Federal Government’s website. In several other cantons full facial covering is currently only banned at protests.”
Other countries in Europe have already enforced various forms of the ban, such as France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
Earlier this year, The Swiss Council of Religions, which reportedly works on behalf of all the main religious communities in Switzerland, spoke out against the proposal, “stressing that the human right to religious freedom also protects religious practices such as dress codes.”
In 2009, Swiss citizens voted in favor of another referendum with ties to Islam, banning the creation of minarets. The SVP described minarets as a form of Islamization.