St. Gallen became the second Swiss region to ban burqa-like face coverings in public Sunday, highlighting rising tensions over integrating Islamic immigrants in Europe.
A referendum on the ban saw a 36 percent turnout of St. Gallen’s voters, two-thirds of whom approved of the ban. The region is the second in Switzerland after Ticino to ban Islamic face coverings. Ticino approved a burqa ban in 2013, which went into effect in 2016. (RELATED: Denmark Becomes The Latest European Country To Ban The Burqa In Public)
Basil Oberholzer, a St. Gallen parliament member from the Green Party, said that it is unclear how those who violate the new ban will be penalized, and that whether or not someone violating the ban poses a threat to public safety will be left to the judgement of police on the scene. Oberholzer opposed the ban, but acknowledged that it was the will of the people.
“This is a symbol of what freedom you grant to people, and in this regard the result is disappointing,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Switzerland has faced fewer challenges in integrating Muslim immigrants into its society than other European countries inundated with migrants. Muslim immigrants report facing less discrimination, and have been reported as integrating into the country’s culture with greater success, in Switzerland.
The fact that two regions in the country have approved bans on Islamic face veils and that a national ban on burqas is set to be put to a vote is significant given Switzerland’s relative success in dealing with the challenges of a culture clash between Islamic migrants and the country’s established western values. The bans signify a tension that has touched every European country, to varying degrees, that has had to grapple with the issue of how to deal with the influx of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
Islamic face veil bans are not unique to Switzerland, as Belgium, Denmark, France, Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, Latvia and Kosovo have all enacted laws that ban such clothing to differing extents. Switzerland’s bans are unique, however, in that they are the result of the country’s system of direct democracy, though so far only according to region.
Under Switzerland’s system, only 100,000 votes are required to qualify an initiative for a national vote. The Swiss voted nationally in 2009 and approved a ban on constructing new minarets for mosques. The referendum on a national burqa ban was approved in 2017 with the necessary 100,000 votes, though it remains unclear when that referendum will take place.
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