SHAFAQNA- Switzerland will vote on whether to ban full facial coverings such as burqas and niqabs in public spaces on March 7. The ban would mean that nobody could cover their face completely in public — whether in shops or the open countryside. There would be exceptions, including for places of worship.
The government and parliament oppose a nationwide ban. Their counter-proposal — automatically triggered if the initiative is rejected — would require people to show their faces to the authorities if necessary for identification, for example at borders. Fines of up to 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,900, 9,040 euros) could be imposed on anyone who refused.
Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, referenda and popular votes occur every few months at the national, regional and local levels. Any topic can be put to a national vote as long as it gathers 100,000 signatures in the wealthy nation of 8.6 million people. The vote comes at a time when face masks are mandatory in shops and on public transport due to the coronavirus pandemic, France 24 reported.
Swiss Muslims have said right-wing parties were using the vote to rally their supporters and demonize them and others have warned a ban could stoke wider divisions. Rifa’at Lenzin, 67, a Swiss Muslim woman, said she was totally against the ban, which was tackling a problem that didn’t exist, in a country where Muslims were well integrated.
“We are Muslims but we are Swiss citizens who have grown up here too,” Lenzin said. “This vote is simply racist and Islamophobic”, according to Reuters. the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland was formed to represent the Muslim voice in the discussions around the minaret referendum. It has since become the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group.
The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland’s spokeswoman, Janina Rashidi, told Al Jazeera that she does not see a need for the proposed law on facial coverings. “You are criminalising women for wearing something,” she said. “I can understand that covering the face, for some people, might look strange,” she said, “but there are so many things in our society that look strange to one or the other.”