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Swiss canton votes to ban burqa.

Voters in one of Switzerland's 26 cantons (states) voted overwhelmingly last month to ban the burqa, joining France and Belgium in a European rightwing movement that has made the burqa the focus of Islamophobia.

In the United States, the "threat" posed by Sharia law has become the central issues of Islamophobia and the burqa is little discussed. But the burqa fear has come to one part of North America as Quebec has moved against not only the burqa but also the Islamic headscarf that wraps around the neck.

Results from a referendum in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino--which includes the tourist city of Lucarno--showed that 65 percent of the electorate backed a proposal to forbid the covering of faces in public areas by any group.

Echoing bans in France and Belgium, the measure does not single out Muslims directly. It states: "No one may mask or hide their face on the public highway, or in places open to the public, except places of worship, nor in places offering a public service."

The referendum question also says: "No one may require another person to cover their face for reasons of gender." That is a nod to the common belief among many in the West that woman are forced against their to wear the burqa by men who wish to keep them virtual; prisoners.

The measure was the brainchild of the right-wing Ticino populist party Il Guastafeste, whose leader, Giorgio Ghiringhelli. makes no secret of his abhorrence of Islam." This is an historic vote for Ticino," Ghiringhelli told Switzerland's Italian-language broadcaster RSI. "And not just for Ticino, but also for Switzerland and abroad, where the Ticino example could spread."

It is the first time that any of Switzerland's 26 cantons has imposed such a ban. It will be anchored in Ticino's constitution, making it tough to overturn, and local lawmakers will now have to craft legislation to implement it and impose penalties on those who fail to respect it.

Reacting to Sunday's results, Switzerland's Central Islamic Council slammed the vote as "yet another loud expression of social Islamophobia.... We in the Council see this as part of a string of attempts to make life increasingly difficult for Muslims in Switzerland and to ban symbols of Islam from the public arena."

The group's statement said the new law "restricts the fundamental constitutional rights of Muslim women without any pressing need or national legal basis."

Amnesty International also condemned the vote. "Fear, and the creation of a problem where there isn't one, have beaten reason and respect, to the detriment of the basic rights of the entire population," the head of Amnesty's Swiss section, Manon Schick, said in a statement.

She added that she hoped the Swiss parliament would speak out, given that the right to religious freedom is inscribed in the country's federal constitution.

Referenda are the bedrock of Switzerland's system of direct democracy, with citizen-campaigners able to force votes if they collect enough signatures from voters. With 350,000 people, Ticino is one of the smallest cantons in Switzerland, a nation of eight million.

There are some 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland, mainly from North Africa and the Balkans. They represent 5 percent of the population of Switzerland but only about 2 percent in Ticino, the Central Islamic Council said.

"This result underlines a certain degree of disquiet in the population," said Swiss President Ueli Maurer. He underlined that it came in the wake of a nationwide referendum in November 2009, which led to a ban on the construction of new mosque minarets beyond the four already built in the country. That referendum was pushed heavily by Maurer's right-wing populist Swiss People's Party, known for its anti-immigration stance.

Until now, bans on burqas haven't got close to being accepted. They have been rejected by cantonal parliaments in Basel City, Bern, Schwyz, Solothurn and Fribourg. Canton Aargau wanted a nationwide ban on burqas, but this was thrown out by the federal government.

The federal court recently judged that a ban by a commune in canton Thurgau on headscarves in secondary schools was illegal.

In France, as of April 11, 2011, it became illegal to wear a face-covering veil or other mask in public places such as streets, shops, museums, public transport and parks. The French law applies to all citizens, including men and non-Muslims. As a result, some balaclava-wearing sympathizers of the Russian girl band Pussy Riot were arrested in Marseille in August 2012 for being in breach of the ban.

The law imposes a fine of up to 150 euros ($200) and mandatory citizenship education for those who violate the law. The bill also penalizes, with a fine of 30,000 euros ($40,000) and one year in prison, anyone who forces another person to wear face coverings.

According to the French Interior Ministry, about 800 women have so far been stopped for violating the law and about 750 of them have been fined.
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Title Annotation:Faith: Religion and the world
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Date:Oct 4, 2013
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