ZURICH (Reuters) - A right-wing politician who brought about the demise of minaret construction in Switzerland is now trying to get voters to ban face veils, echoing an earlier move in neighbouring France.
Walter Wobmann and his allies will on Tuesday launch their “yes to the veil ban” initiative, a measure they say is to preserve Swiss culture and quell a rising tide of radical Islam.
If they get 100,000 signatures, the measure will come up for a popular referendum under the Swiss system of direct democracy.
“In our culture, you don’t cover your face, you show it. That’s our culture, that’s our society,” he said. “Veiling is a symbol of radical Islam, which we don’t want here,” the Swiss People’s Party member of parliament from Solothurn said.
Michael Sorg, spokesman for the Social Democrats, said the initiative was unnecessary and harmful to Switzerland’s image.
He said hardly anyone living in the wealthy Alpine republic of 8.2 million people wears the face-covering niqab or burka, so the law would practically affect only about 5,000 tourists. About five percent of Swiss residents are Muslim.
If successful, the initiative would constitutionally ban facial covering in public, similar to the French act of 2010.
“More and more Muslims are coming to Switzerland, on refugee routes, and it’s important that these people know what regulations we have in these domains,” Wobmann said.
“It’s important that we take action now, at the beginning, or it will become difficult.”
The anti-veil move, coming two and a half weeks before Swiss parliamentary elections, focuses on a broader set of migratory and cultural issues that have polarised and mobilised Swiss voters to a greater degree than any other.
In 2009, Swiss voters approved an initiative banning the construction of new minarets by 57.5 percent. The initiative was launched by the same group backing the veil ban.
Legislation to prohibit veils has failed several times to pass by a vote in the Swiss parliament. One Swiss canton, Ticino, approved its own ban on veils in 2013.
The Social Democrats’ Sorg said the initiative did not reflect reality in the wealthy Alpine country. “Compared to other countries in Europe, there are no religious tensions in Switzerland,” he said.
The proposed ban is viewed as an infringement of freedoms of expression and religion by Amnesty International.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi; Editing by Mark Heinrich