On March 7, The Swiss people narrowly voted for a proposal that would ban face coverings being worn in public including religious wear such as a burqa. For reference, a burqa is a piece of clothing worn by some Muslim women that covers them head to toe. The law would allow for exceptions for medical masks or masks required for work. This proposal comes from a Swiss right wing party called the Swiss People’s Party which tried to institute a similar ban in 2009 but failed. Campaign slogans such as “Stop Extremism” would appear on posters portraying a woman wearing a full burqa and dark sunglasses, an image that upset some. Officially, the proposal itself does not mention Islam, but politicians, including those supporting the proposal, made direct references to Islam.
“In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms, “Walter Wobmann, chairman of the referendum committee said, later elaborating that facial coverings are “a symbol of this extreme, political Islam which has become increasingly prominent in Europe and which has no place in Switzerland.”
Similar laws have existed in both Switzerland and other European countries. Two Swiss cantons had local laws restricting facial coverings. In 2011, France voted to ban facial veils except in very specific circumstances. Other countries such as Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Bulgaria have also instituted their own restrictions and bans.
While many Muslim groups in Switzerland have condemned the proposal, some have supported the ban. These groups believe that the ban could aid in liberating Muslim women. However, even groups supportive of the proposal have reservations. One man named Iman Mustafa Memeti, a supporter of the proposal, said the ban was “probably Islamophobic”. On the other hand, many Muslim organizations condemning the proposal accused it of being Islamophobic as well as an unveiling a problematic history. “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 Central Council of Muslims in Switzerland said.