By: Conrad Yiridoe
One of the most neutral and non combative countries in the world, Switzerland, has joined the list of countries and regions using, to violate a group of people’s rights to choose what to wear. Once again, it is traditional Islamic culture which is the target. It is interesting to note that the vote to ban face coverings has occurred during a pandemic in which face coverings have been exempted, for public (health) safety reasons.
The ban of facial coverings has been a trend in the country for the past few years. Multiple regions (or cantons) had already passed their own versions of “burqa bans” in the past few years, showing the anti-freedom sentiment emendating from this most recent national referendum is not unique. In Switzerland, citizens voting against government opinion in religious topics such as this latest referendum, is not new. In 2009, a vote to ban the building of minarets (Islamic buildings of worship) passed, with 57% approval. The actual number minarets in the country (4) was quite small. Fast forward to 2021, no women in the country even wear the burqa. With the niqab, the number is estimated to be around 30 women for the whole country suggesting the aim of these acts is more anti-Islamic in nature. This joins a growing trend seen across the continent over the past decade, via using the “burqa ban” concept to directly target Islamic groups. Though the vote may suggest a major shift in the right-wing anti-immigration direction, at least historically some argue that this is not the case, to the extent this shift has occurred in other countries. Instead, data suggests that anti-democratic feelings were rejected more strongly by the Swiss, compared with another nations. As well, even the right leaning Swiss People’s Party (party with the most seats in parliament currently) who proposed the 2009 minaret ban, are not as populist as other comparable national parties. The trend seems to be a somewhat mixed in that, antidemocratic sentiments are not okay, but there is always room for add some anti-Islamic sentiment.
It seems fair to guess that this issue may play a significant role globally. In Europe, with national elections occurring in the coming months in major countries such as Germany and France, the role of not just facial coverings, but Islam’s spot in society will come up in different ways. Canada is not exempt from this growing trend either, though for now it appears to be a provincial rather than national issue. In Quebec, the introduction of a law to ban facial coverings in public spaces received a lot of attention, both from supporters as well as critics. This suggests that the right leaning thoughts regarding restricting the rights of certain people to dress as they choose, has found some legal footing to stand on, worldwide.
It seems clear that the fight to resist the introduction of Islamic tradition into “western civilization” has found some legal arguments that appear to be sticking, at least for now. Switzerland has now joined a host of other countries and regions (as noted earlier) who feel it is appropriate to decide what can and cannot be worn. This is especially true when these different forces can use this to target specific people, namely Muslims. From an ethical point of view, this continues to raise interesting questions about who exactly gets to determine levels of individual freedoms. The fact that this decision has taken place during a time when facial coverings specifically are suggested (even required in many places), adds to the idea that maybe these arguments about facial coverings and safety are not as innocent as they are presented. In fact, this very concept is slowly starting to be questioned, and hopefully will continue to shine a light on this hypocrisy.