- November 2014 : ban on the full veil in Ticino canton
On 22 September 2013, the initiative seeking to ban concealment of the face in public and to incorporate this in the Constitution of Ticino was accepted by 65.4% of voters in the Italian-speaking canton. As such, Ticino has become the first canton to prohibit wearing of the full veil in public, which has ignited debate : some regard this vote as a violation of the fundamental rights of Muslim women and discrimination against the Muslim minority when combined with the ban on building minarets in Switzerland (which was voted on and passed in June 2010).
This initiative - led by former journalist Giorgio Ghiringhelli, and with a text very close to the French law approved by the European Court of Human Rights in July 2014 - is seen by some as nonsense. Indeed, the number of residents who conceal their face is extremely low, whether in Ticino in particular or in Switzerland in general : there are only around ten people who do so in the whole country, according to Nadia Karmous, President of the Cultural Organisation for Muslim Women in Switzerland.
The human rights NGO Amnesty International has declared that a “general ban on wearing the full veil violates the right to freedom of expression and religion of the women who choose to express their identity or convictions in such a manner”. On the other hand, Amnesty International recalls that it is up to the State to make sure that no woman is forced to veil herself. Another danger of this emergency law is that it is likely to marginalise women wearing such clothing. The initiative has also been condemned by Human Rights Watch, the European Muslim League and the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS).
The issue of the full veil in Switzerland, although it relates to only a small minority of Muslim women, has been a regular subject of discussion since 2006. The Federal Council had clearly opposed the ban, but the wind turned : in November 2014, the Federal Council (executive power) gave its assent for the modification of the Constitution of Ticino put forward by the initiative. It only remains to await the decision of the parliament so that the initiative can indeed come into effect. It is very likely that the debate will go beyond the cantonal level and lead to a popular vote at national level.
- September 2014 : opposition to the opening of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society
A plan to start university studies in Islam in Switzerland was to lead to the opening in 2014 of the Swiss Centre for Islam and Society (CIS), attached to and coordinated by the Faculty of Theology at the University of Fribourg. The purpose of this study course is to offer an academic framework for reflexion on Islam in Switzerland as well as interreligious dialogue. The study course is primarily aimed at imams, giving them tools to familiarise themselves with the Swiss environment and legislation, but also at any person working in contact with Muslims.
But the course will finally not start until 2017. Right-wing political parties, the Swiss People’s Party and FDP. The Liberals strongly oppose it. Presented to the Grand Council of Fribourg, the project was subject to a vote by members of the parliament. The project only narrowly escaped being put on hold. Exasperated, the Swiss People’s party announced that it would launch a popular initiative in early 2015 in order to have people vote on the future of the CIS (Switzerland being a semi-direct democracy, any Swiss citizen, male or female, can launch a popular initiative provided that they collect at least 100,000 signatures in 18 months).
The arguments of those opposing the CIS revolve around three areas : the international context (the persecution of Christians in the Middle East by jihadist groups), financial aspects, and the existence of “hidden” goals in the project (possibly the creation of a Qur’anic school and training of imams within the CIS). These arguments are refuted by those in charge of the project, who state that this has nothing to do with creating a Qur’anic school nor receiving support from abroad. Moreover, they remind us of Articles 8 and 20 of the Swiss Constitution which guarantee the autonomy of science and the universities, as well as equality of treatment regardless of religious affiliation.