Switzerland to ban burqas and veils after closed vote

Swiss voters narrowly supported a ban on burqas and other full-face clothing in one of the most contentious referendums yet in the country’s unique system of direct democracy, and one more sign that the backlash against Islam is on. gaining ground in Europe.

A majority of 51% of participants voted in favor of banning full-face covers in public compared to 49% against, according to provisional officials’ results from Sunday’s vote, although masks will be used to slow the spread. of Covid-19. allowed, and burqa and niqab veils may still be worn in places of worship.

The Swiss government had opposed the proposal, and some opponents of the ban accused right-wing groups of using the issue to stoke anti-Muslim sentiment. During the campaign period, Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter commented that “you would almost think we live in Kabul”, while supporters described the possibility of women covering their faces as a break with Swiss values. .

Some cantons, or states, of the Alpine nation previously banned full-face covers in regional votes. A national referendum in 2009 also saw Swiss voters support a proposal to ban the construction of minarets for mosques.

This time, the right-wingers, including the Swiss People’s Party, collected more than 100,000 signatures required to trigger a vote to change the constitution and won the support of some moderate Muslim and feminist groups, including Saida Keller-Messahli, who founded a group. called Forum for a Progressive Islam.

The Swiss People’s Party was also the driving force behind the vote on the minarets, describing them as alien to Swiss cultural traditions and contributing to a broader debate in Europe on the integration of Muslims.

That debate continues in many parts of Europe. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has pushed for legislation to ban what he calls “Islamist separatism” and includes measures to prevent the indoctrination of children during homeschooling.

France and other countries have also banned full-face veils in public as a way to uphold secular values, while anti-immigrant sentiment contributed to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

The Swiss government, by contrast, urged voters to reject the ban on full face covering. He pointed to the country’s relatively small Muslim population, which comprises about 5% of its 8.5 million inhabitants, and warned of the impact it could have on its tourism industry. Switzerland’s lakes are popular with wealthy visitors from the Gulf states.

A coalition of leftists who opposed the ban put up posters across the country declaring that the proposal was “Absurd. Useless. Islamophobic. ”Some, including Tamara Funicello of the left-wing Social Democratic Party, objected to the idea that the government could tell women what they could and couldn’t wear.

Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, a researcher on Islam at the University of Lucerne, conducted a survey last year that found that the majority of Muslims in Switzerland have their roots in the Balkan region and few, if any, use burqas, and only a few dozen. wear a veil.

The Swiss government is now obliged to start work on legislation that bans all full-face covers in public places, with exceptions in places of worship, health reasons, and traditional celebrations like Carnival. He had proposed a softer approach that would require people to show their faces to authorities if necessary for identification purposes.

Swiss referendums often touch on sensitive issues. Another vote could be held as soon as June on whether to reverse government powers to impose shutdowns and other measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

They are also used to solve more common issues. Last year, the Swiss voted to increase the stock of low-cost housing, tax breaks for children and whether to expand the wolf hunt. Voters on Sunday also approved a free trade agreement with Indonesia.

The proposals require a majority of voters and cantons to become law. Voters can cast their votes in person at the voting booths, by mail, and online.

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