The popular initiative ‘Yes to a ban on concealing the face’ calls for it to be made illegal for anyone to cover their face in public, with some exceptions including for local customs, the weather and health and safety reasons.
The initiative, which would effectively ban women from wearing the burqa in public, in September succeeded in getting the required number of signatures to push it to a federal referendum.
Now, seven MPs on both the left and right wing of politics have formed a committee to campaign against the initiative.
Speaking to Le Temps, Liberal-Radical Andrea Caroni, who heads up the group, said he was opposed to the initiative by “liberal conviction”.
“The state does not have to legislate on the clothes of citizens,” he said, adding that the proposed law “would not sort out the problems it claims to combat. It would only generate bureaucracy and limit individuals’ freedom and private lives”.
He even accused those behind the initiative of “playing the same game as extremists: like them, they are looking to create tensions by wielding symbols”.
Part of the text of the initiative says ‘no one is allowed to force a person to cover her face because of her gender.’
But Caroni told the paper this was only a pretext used by people paranoid about Islam, and revealed the hypocrisy of those supporting the initiative.
“Suddenly conservative circles who are never usually bothered by gender equality claim to fight for the freedom of a handful of female tourists from the Gulf states,” he said.
Existing laws are enough to dissuade Swiss residents from wearing burqas, he said, pointing out that integration is an essential condition for naturalization in Switzerland.
“This rule has a dissuasive effect: it’s difficult for a woman who wears a burqa to prove she’s integrated,” he said.
In any case, he added, everyone should have the right to a private life, including the right to walk about without being readily identified all the time.
He dismissed security concerns, saying there had never been a terror attack in Europe committed by a woman wearing a burqa.
“That’s not surprising: you are never more visible than when wearing a burqa. Terrorists in Europe wear western clothes – should we ban them too?”
The initiative for a federal ban on face coverings follows the lead of the canton of Ticino, which has already banned it at cantonal level.
In March the Swiss senate rejected the idea of a federal ban, saying it was unnecessary since so few women in Switzerland wear the veil.
Nevertheless, the Swiss people will likely have the final say when the popular initiative is put to referendum.