Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Burkas and niqabs banned from Swiss canton

(Telegraph) Just over 65 per cent of voters in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino voted in favour of banning the veil, according to preliminary votes of Sunday's referendum.

It comes as Britain debates if female Muslim doctors and nurses should be banned from wearing full-face veils such as niqabs and whether Muslim women can be ordered to remove their veils if giving evidence in court.

While the Swiss proposal did not specifically target Muslim women, it had become known as the “anti-burka” initiative.

It was pushed by conservative campaigners and had been criticized by Amnesty International.

As well as banning burkas, the full-body cloaks worn by some Muslim women, the initiative will also prohibit niqabs, which feature a slit for the eyes.

One of the main backers of the ban, former journalist Giorgio Ghiringhelli, said he wanted to put a stop to “the inevitable spread of niqabs and burkas.”

He said the passing of the referendum sent the message that the Swiss rejected “militant Islam” and told the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation that he hoped other cantons would follow suit.

Critics said it was almost meaningless because there were very few Muslims in Ticino who wore burkas or niqabs.

“You might see a few Arab tourists coming out of expensive boutiques in Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse or Geneva’s Rue due Stand – but out in the sticks?” said an editorial in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung when the ban was first discussed.

While there are about 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, only about 100 Muslim women wear burkas, according to official estimates.

Several Swiss regions had previously thrown out proposals to ban burkas and niqabs, making Ticino the first of the country’s 26 cantons to pass such a ban.

The prohibition is similar to a controversial law passed in France in 2011 which makes it illegal to wear a face-covering veil or other type of mask in public places.

Ticino’s burka ban is the latest of a series of moves in Switzerland which have been condemned as racist or discriminatory.

In 2009 there was international condemnation after voters backed a ban on the building of new minarets, beyond the four that already exist.