A Potential Burqa Ban at the Federal Level in Switzerland

A Potential Burqa Ban at the Federal Level in Switzerland December 23, 2014

The optimism in my last post, at least for Switzerland, has been tempered with news coming out of Switzerland last week.

In Switzerland (where niqab is already banned in Ticino since 2013), the German-speaking newspaper SonntagsBlick recently cited a survey saying that 62% of the Swiss population would be in favor of a burqa ban.  Granted, the Tribune de Geneve mentioned that the methodology of the SonntagsBlick survery was not made clear. But as usual, Muslim women and their clothing are the battlefield for what are really problems with “Islam,” problems with “foreigners” or both.  First off, as has been mentioned repeatedly almost every time burqa bans come up, there really are not a lot of women in Europe who wear them (France came up with the laughable and highly exact number of 367, which, methodology aside, is absurdly low in a country with a population of almost 70 million). While at the federal level no motions have been submitted yet (and as mentioned in my last post, recent judicial and political initiatives have been pro-hijab, with the burqa not even on the radar), the SonntagBlick’s survey is timely and telling.

Switzerland, coming off of a series of anti-immigrant votes (the Masseneinwanderung and Ecopop initiatives were two recent referendums limiting the number of foreigners), the timing appears right for this kind of populist backlash. Trashing Islam and Muslims is in the news, so it really is no surprise to me that 60-plus percent of people, even if the science of the survey was messy, are in favor of a burqa ban.  But let’s be real here, is the burqa really the problem?

The most recent drama started when Andreas Thiel, a self-styled expert on Islam (and we all know what “experts” on Islam are like), thought he knew enough about Islam to go on the local Zurich channel’s talk show TalkTäglich. The shitstorm was complete as the other invitee, Qassim Illi, was a Swiss convert belonging to the extremely problematic Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS). With a topic like “The Koran: Bible of War?” what could possibly go wrong?

As much as I cannot stand the IZRS (as my posting history in this blog attests), Thiel’s attitude on TalkTäglich was bigoted and disrespectful – he kept smirking and rolling his eyes at Mr. Illi.  So it was no surprise to me when even Roger Schawinski, a famous television journalist, got into it with him last week.  While it can be argued that Schawinski lost his cool and did not handle the interview well, I don’t know if I could keep a straight face with a man calling Mohammed a “pedophile, mass murderer and a slave driver” either. But what is worse is that a longtime journalist with a proven track record like Schawinski’s is being questioned as to his fit for television  (survey in the Blick link, above) but yet no one is asking the question why we let bigots like Andreas Thiel have a platform in the first place?

As this is supposed to be a media blog about Muslim women, the point I am trying to make is that this burqa ban nonsense is not happening in a vacuum.  When you have people like Andreas Thiel speaking about Muslims and the IZRS speaking for us, the real voice of Swiss Islam gets lost in the noise. Of course, Muslims – and by extension Muslim women – being the scapegoat for Europe’s problems is nothing new. As with minaret ban in Switzerland, I can’t help but feel that steps for a nationwide burqa ban are symptoms of a greater malaise that may not have as much to do with Muslims as it seems.

On a final note, I was recently contacted by a Swiss journalist to find some young Swiss converts (as I am no longer young anymore, of course) to talk with for a piece she was doing that was meant to be lighthearted and fun.  All of my younger friends mentioned that they were uncomfortable with speaking to the media, and this for two reasons: either they didn’t want to become spokespeople for Teh Islamz like the IZRS and their crew, or they didn’t want to expose themselves to bigots like Andreas Thiel.  This is what “free expression” masquerading as “freedom to bash Muslims” is doing: Swiss Muslims are checking themselves out of the game before it even begins. And what option do we have when respected journalists like Roger Schwanski fall into his trap? I wouldn’t want to go up against someone like Thiel in a debate, either – he is simply too hateful and arrogant.

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