Voters in Ticino [official website, in Italian], an Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, approved a referendum on Sunday to ban the wearing of full-face veils. Although the referendum does not explicitly target Muslims, it drew outrage [AFP report] from Muslim groups in Switzerland, who denounced the referendum as a blow to the constitutional rights of Muslim women. The referendum, which stipulates that "no one may require another person to cover their face for reasons of gender," was backed by the right-wing populist party Il Guastafeste [party website, in Italian]. In a press release [text, in Italian], Il Guastafeste touted the referendum as a victory for western values against Islamic fundamentalism:
The people have wanted to give a clear signal to the Islamic fundamentalists, very present in Ticino and Switzerland, telling them that in this country, those who want to integrate are well received regardless of their religion, but those who reject our values and aim to create a parallel society based on religious laws and designed to overlap with ours, are not welcome.The referendum passed with 65 percent of voters favoring it.
Niqabs, burqas and other traditional Muslim garments have been a controversial subject, especially in Europe. Last week a UK court ruled [JURIST report] that a Muslim woman who is a defendant in an upcoming trial must remove her full-face veil when presenting evidence. Earlier that week a Quebec official proposed a bill [JURIST report] banning religious headwear for public workers. In February the Spanish Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] struck down [JURIST report] a city ban on wearing veils over the face in municipal buildings. Belgium officially banned [JURIST report] burqas in July 2011. France's ban on burqas took effect [JURIST report] in April 2011. Some commentators have suggested that the rationales behind the European burqa bans are weak [JURIST op-ed] and that the true purpose of the bills is societal discomfort.