“Black Day For Human Rights” Swiss State Bans Burkas

Daisy Cousens

Muslim women face big fines if found with their faces covered.

The southern Swiss state of Ticino has approved a law to fine Muslim women up to $9800 USD for wearing the burka or the niqab in public spaces. This includes restaurants, shops, public buildings, and behind the wheel of a car.

The Italian speaking province passed the law after a 2013 local referendum revealed two thirds of the state supported the ban and potential financial sanction. Despite Amnesty International stating, “This is a black day for human rights”, Swiss parliament has asserted the ban does not violate federal law, and has given it the all clear. However, it is not known exactly when the new law will come into place.

Both the burka (a full face covering) and the niqab (which has a gap to reveal the eyes), will be considered illegal. However, masks and other face coverings worn by protesters are not included in the ban, although Ticino’s local government pushed for this as well. The attachment of a fine to the ban was backed and voted in by MPs on Monday.

The new law will not exclude Muslim tourists and those visiting the country, who will be informed at the border that it is illegal to wear niqabs and burkas when they reach Ticino’s soil.

Former journalist and one of the primary backers of the ban, Giorgio Ghiringhelli, stated he wanted the ban to stop “the inevitable spread of niqabs and burkas”. He also said it would send a message to Islamic fundamentalists in the region who support jihadist ideals.

“Those who want to integrate are welcome irrespective of their religion. But those who rebuff our values and aim to rebuild a parallel society based on religious laws, and want to place it over our society, are not welcome.”

The new law in Ticino is similar to the ban on burkas, niqabs, and all other face coverings in France, instigated in 2010 and brought into effect the following year. France has Europe’s largest Muslim population, and the ban has generated a lot of resentment within the community. Many believe the nation has a distinct agenda against them.

This groundswell does not come in isolation; Britain is currently debating whether Muslim women who are doctors and nurses should be banned from wearing religious face coverings, and whether they can be ordered to remove these veils in court if giving evidence. Similar laws have also been passed in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Although a British legal team pushed to reverse the burka ban in France last year, the rebuff was resoundingly rejected by the European Court of Human Rights. Judges asserted the measures taken to prevent face coverings where wholly justified, a test that will have significant implications for other countries in a similar position.

The judges’ reasoning was that people had a right to ‘live together’, which was a ‘legitimate objective’ that should be protected. As such, they asserted Muslim women wearing full face coverings threatened this objective.

The laws are a stark contrast to those standing in Canada at the moment, which has just undergone a full political shake up, where it’s legal to wear a niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and even while voting.

Banning burkas and niqabs in Ticino, France, and other European countries is a contentious issue. Many would argue it is a direct violation of human rights, and freedom of religion. Others would argue that in a global climate fraught with tension, banning this kind of religious symbol is a matter of security before anything else, not only for Muslim head coverings, but for others such as bicycle helmets.

However, if Swiss authorities are looking to send a message to jihadists, this ban is, whether you agree with it or not, a fairly succinct way of doing it.

Comment: What are your thoughts on banning women from wearing their traditional dress?