Veiled vote : Burka ban approved in Italian-speaking Switzerland

by Gerhard Lob with agencies,
September 22, 2013 – 18:08

Ticino has become the first Swiss canton to approve a ban on face-covering headgear in public places, following a vote on Sunday. It will now be up to the federal parliament to accept the change to Ticino’s constitution.

Giorgio Ghiringhelli launched the initiative (Keystone)

According to official estimates, only about 100 women in Switzerland wear burkas. The full-body cloaks worn by some Muslim women are few and far between in the souhern Swiss canton.

And yet about 65 per cent of voters in the Italian-speaking canton voted in favour of the change to the law.

The Ticino initiative did not explicitly target Muslims – the phrasing voted on was “nobody in public streets or squares may veil or hide their face” – but in practice it means women in burkas. The law would apply to burkas and niqabs, Arabic face coverings with a slit for the eyes often worn as part of a full-body covering, but not to headscarves.

Until Sunday, burka bans hadn’t stood a chance in Switzerland. The force behind the initiative, which was handed in in March 2011 with 11,767 valid signatures, is the political campaigner and former journalist Giorgio Ghiringhelli, who has already proven in other cases that he knows how to get the majority of the public behind him.
Other votes

Votes on a wide range of issues took place at the commune and cantonal level across the country on Sunday.

The Swiss were asked to cast their ballots on everything from credits for new kindergartens to football stadiums and car-free zones. Details of a few are listed below.
“Preventative character”

For Ghiringhelli, the initiative had a “preventative character”. He told that it was important to send a clear signal that the people are against “militant Islamism”, and hoped other cantons would follow suit.

The government in Ticino only went as far as opposing the idea of adding a ban to the constitution, but presented a counterproposal to change the law on public order. This was accepted by 60 per cent of voters.

This law forbids covering one’s face in public, including during demonstrations or sporting events. However, it lists exceptions: helmets for motorcyclists, dust filters for workers or carnival masks.

One of the most vocal opponents of the initiative and counterproposal, prominent local lawyer Paolo Bernasconi, said a ban was not compatible with European human rights, and it would sully the image of the canton. He was supported in his views by NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch which put adverts in local newspapers, declaring that the wearing of burkas posed no risk to public order or safety.

The European Muslims League and Islamic Central Council Switzerland held a joint news conference in Ticino’s largest city, Lugano, last week to express their opposition. They called the ban “discriminatory”. Veiled women handed out flyers calling for a no vote.

Federal decision

Approval by the federal parliament is anything but certain. Up to now, all parliamentary motions favouring burka bans have been voted down.

Canton Aargau had called for a nationwide ban on burkas, but this was thrown out by the federal government.

And its not yet clear how quickly parliament will vote on Ticino’s constitutional change. It could decide to wait until the European Court of Human Rights issues its verdict on a complaint filed against the ban in France.
Other cantons

Bans have been previously rejected by cantonal parliaments in Basel City, Bern, Schwyz, Solothurn and Fribourg.

Headscarves have also been making headlines. The federal court recently judged that a ban by a commune in canton Thurgau on headscarves in secondary schools was illegal.

The branch of the rightwing Swiss People’s Party in canton St Gallen is preparing to launch an initiative to ban burkas and headscarves in schools. No other political party supports such a ban.

Gerhard Lob with agencies,
(Adapted from German by Dale Bechtel)


Categories: Europe, Switzerland

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1 reply

  1. How many of you remember a whole raft of politicians, feminists, liberals and right-wingers standing as one to declare: One of the reasons we should invade Afghanistan is to save Muslim Women from the Taliban. One of key reasons for liberating Afghanistan, we were told, was to ensure Afghan women can be ‘given a voice’.

    Back in 2001 the former Prime Minister’s wife Cherie Blair and Overseas Development Minister Claire Short were the biggest cheer leaders in focusing their attention towards Muslim Women. Thirteen years later and countless lives lost, the Taliban are reemploying their male dominated will on society. In the last few weeks alone the Taliban have assassinated two female security personnel. It begs the question: was the war in Afghanistan really about women’s rights? If so why are they now being abandoned?

    The same is true about the mock outraged debate in regards to the veil or the Niqab. To watch the news, or listen to the radio stations one would think that the foundation of British society is under threat by a few thousand Muslim women who prefer to wear the veil. Horrified shock jocks give over hours of airtime urging their listeners to be as outraged as they are about the ‘affront to our society’ and to women’s liberation in general.

    This ‘national’ debate came about after a small number of women at Birmingham University requested to wear the veil during their lectures and another woman requested to remain veiled during her court case. Birmingham University reviewed its initial decision to ban the veil on security grounds and will now allow it, and the Judge found a compromise in the court case arguing that if the defendant gives evidence then she must remove it.

    So, where’s the national debate? Why do certain politicians and media people want to talk about this issue ad nausea? The answers are simple: by focusing on this extremely narrow issue which only effects a few thousand women, some people can write or talk about what they see as very negative elements of Islam. The fact that it effects so few people is besides the point, they know that all Muslims are tainted by this debate. And that is the sole reason for its disproportionate coverage.

    The detractors would say, ‘but it’s a legitimate debate to be had.’ Others would say, ‘ its about protecting Muslim women from oppressive Muslim men’. Both are just excuses. If this a legitimate debate, why isn’t there a legitimate national debate that Muslim’s numbering many tens of thousands are amongst the poorest, deprived people in the United Kingdom.

    Equally the rates of infant mortality is the highest within British Bangladeshi families; Somali men have the highest rates of unemployment, and Stop and Search for Muslims are three times the national average. Why are these issues not for public debate? If it was about Muslim women, why then are organisations such as the Southall Black Sisters having their funding cut by local and National Government?

    Where’s the outrage when Asian women’s organisations that support women’s rights are closing on a daily basis? And if its about women’s rights in general, why are we not completely outraged by the main stream sexualisation of young girls, by men in powerful media positions? Lastly, in the fairness of seeing all sides of a community, when was the last time you heard a debate about Muslim women or the Muslim Community that was anything but negative?

    If our outraged shock disc jockeys, politicians and feminists really cared about Muslim women, they would be writing articles and holding programmes about the deep inequality gaps which persist in jobs, education and housing. Sadly these very genuine debates do not pander to prejudice like the veil debate does.
    London School of Islamics Trust

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