Voters in Switzerland have narrowly backed a proposal to ban full facial coverings in public places despite the presence of hardly any niqabis in the country.
Official results showed that 51.21 percent of voters supported the proposal in a referendum on Sunday.
The ban means that nobody can cover their face completely in public – whether in shops or the open countryside. However, there are exceptions for places of worship.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland said the vote proved that Islamophobia had increased in Switzerland since the ban on minarets in 2009. It also vowed to pay any fines for those who choose to wear the niqab in the name of religious freedom.
In a statement it said: “Today’s decision opens up old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority. The result comes as no surprise. As credibly and competently as the Federal Council conducted the referendum campaign, it neglected the phenomenon of ‘radicalising Islamophobia’ in society.
“Since 2015 it has been content to increasingly combat radicalisation tendencies among Muslims without taking the interdependent character of ‘Islamophobic radicalisation’ into account. Numerous studies and journalistic products have long since proven that among French ISIS sympathisers in particular, the feeling of discrimination, among other things in the wake of the niqab ban, had contributed to their radicalisation.
“In Switzerland, too, the ban will hardly contribute to weaken radicalisation tendencies – be it in Muslim milieus or on the part of right-wing nationalists. On the contrary, it is to be expected that the renewed success will give strength to the Egerkingen Committee (which launched the anti-burqa initiative). The committee’s executive board has already announced further attacks on the Muslim minority and its free exercise of religion.”
The Islamic Central Council has opened a ‘donation pool’ to pay any fines and protect religious freedom.
“Affected Muslim women can contact us if they are fined. Until the resources are exhausted, we will pay the fines and, in addition, have the constitutionality of the respective implementing laws examined by means of test cases,” the council said.
According to current estimates, the number of niqabis in Switzerland ranges from less than 30 to 130 individuals. Most niqab wearers are tourists who come to the Alpine country for a holiday, which prompted the Swiss government to urge voters to reject the ban.
On the other hand, the ban was pushed by the Swiss People’s Party. One of its parliamentarians, Jean-Luc Addor, argued the ban would promote equality between men and women and would help fight against Islamic radicalisation.