Author: FLORIAN WICKI
Switzerland’s upper house of parliament on Thursday voted down plans to ban the niqab and the burqa in public places.
Last September, the lower house narrowly (88 votes to 87) approved the motion, with the MP behind the plan, Walter Wobmann of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, arguing that burqas do not belong to Switzerland.
“In our culture, people show their faces,” he told the newspaper Blick last September. Supporters of the ban also brought up security concerns, saying veils made it impossible to determine the gender of the wearer.
But opponents said the ban would be of little use as only 5 percent of the Swiss population is Muslim and a small proportion of those wear Islamic veils.
The proposal closely resembles a burqa ban in the Italian-speaking Ticino canton in force since July 1 last year, after it was approved by referendum.
However, the proposed constitutional amendment’s defeat, by 26 votes to 9 with 4 abstentions, doesn’t settle the issue.
Wobmann is collecting signatures to launch a referendum. He told POLITICO on Thursday that of the 100,000 signatures needed to force a referendum, he had around 70,000.
Other European countries have enforced burqa bans. France was the first to do so in April 2011 followed by Belgium, Bulgaria and Austria. In the Netherlands, a proposed law is awaiting approval by the senate.
Germany may also soon join the club. “The full veil must be banned, wherever legally possible. Showing your face is part of our way of life,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a speech in December last year.