A narrow majority of Swiss backed a face veil ban in Sunday’s controversial referendum, dealing a massive blow to religious freedom.

The national referendum, referred to as “burqa ban”, was accepted by 51.2 percent of the Swiss population in an initiative that was put forward by Egerkinger Komitee, a far-right group affiliated with the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP). 

Egerkinger Komitee had earlier proposed the ban on building minarets in 2009, calling them a sign of Islamisation.

Speaking to TRT World, Janina Rashidi from the Islamic Central Council on Swiss, said that the move against the face veil was much anticipated ever since the Egerkinger Komitee began its xenophobic campaign against the Islamic architecture of mosques. 

“In 2009, when the minaret ban was added to the constitution, we said that this is not the end of discriminating laws against Muslims but just the beginning,” Rashidi remembers  “as some representatives of the Egerkinger Komitee that is behind these two initiatives have already mentioned, the next step might go against the hijab.” 

Jean-Luc Addor, Swiss National Councillor and Swiss People's Party (SVP) member argues that the ban defends the dignity of women, promotes equality and will help fight against radicalisation of Islam. 

“In recent years we have witnessed a form of radicalisation of the ostentatious character of Islam in the public space. This trend has manifested in an increase in the number of women who go out wearing the hijab and in the most radical cases wearing a niqab. France, a country which belongs to the same civilisation as us, has practically lost control of the situation. We don’t want to get to that,” Addor told the Swiss media.

“Although the result is much tighter than the polls suggested around two months ago, it shows that iIslamophobic prejudices are in the middle of our society and not only a phenomenon of the far right. Now we already have the second Islamophobic article in our Constitution that is meant to guarantee the rights of everyone in this country instead of violating them," Rashidi says.

The Swiss government has recommended voters reject the proposal but Rashidi says “Islamophobia has a significant backing in society.”

Muslim groups have criticised the ban and expressed concerns over Switzerland following the footsteps of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria in banning women from wearing face veils in public spaces. “Today's decision opens up old wounds, further expands the principle of legal inequality and sends a clear signal of exclusion to the Muslim minority,” said the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) in a statement, adding that “after the ban on minarets in 2009, Islamophobic reflexes of the majority society have once again been successfully instrumentalised politically.”

Rashidi says “as we can see in various European countries, what is considered "extreme" includes more and more just common, basic aspects of Islamic practice and lifestyle. This is something the Muslim community needs to understand and makes them engage actively in fighting Islamophobia.”

The Swiss section of Amnesty International condemned the latest initiative "which discriminates against a particular religious community," and said it unnecessarily fuels division and fears since almost no-one in Switzerland wears a burka, and only around 30 to 150 women wear the niqab, according to the University of Lucerne’s study.

“Many Muslims, including me, are disappointed and frustrated. We feel like people of second grade that are deprived from their right to freely choose the way they would like to practice their religion while not interfering with anyone else's freedoms and rights. We are a minority for which two special articles were written into the constitution. This is just humiliating.”

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) blames the “radicalisation of Islamophobia” in the verdict of the Swiss electorate “the ban will hardly contribute to weaken radicalisation tendencies - be it in Muslim milieus or on the part of right-wing nationalists. On the contrary, it is to be expected that the renewed success will throw more water on the mills of the Egerkingen Committee. The committee's executive board has already announced further attacks on the Muslim minority and it's free exercise of religion.”

we are not considered equal members of this society, even those Muslims that are originally Swiss by nationality, that we have to accept a majority interfering with our personal decisions, our religious and private lives and that we can never be sure that tomorrow another part of our identity as Muslims, of our practice and believe is scrutinized.”

The Islamic Central Council persistently reminds that “the Swiss Federal Constitution degenerating into a contradictory and discriminatory testimony to the Swiss popular anger against Islam cannot be in the interest of the country” while Muslims like Rashidi are determined to stand their ground “The vote is over but our fight against this ban will continue.”

The Islamic Central Council of Switzerland has decided to set up a donation-pool to protect religious freedom and support women that will be fined because of wearing the niqab.

Source: TRT World