A recent referendum in Switzerland produced a rather startling result that at first glance sounds like an effort to eliminate some COVID mitigation mandates. In a close, 52-48 percent referendum, the Swiss voted to ban “face coverings” in public. I’ll confess that my first reaction to the news was to think that eliminating a mandate for face masks, as was done in Texas and several other states, might not be a bad idea. But to ban their use entirely seems a bit oppressive. But reading deeper into the story published by the BBC yesterday, this referendum wasn’t aimed at anything to do with with the pandemic. It had been in the works before the world even learned about the novel coronavirus. This ban was actually targeting a different sort of “face covering,” specifically the burka or niqab typically worn by Muslim women.
Switzerland appears to have narrowly voted in favour of banning face coverings in public, including the burka or niqab worn by Muslim women, following a controversial referendum.
Projections by broadcaster SRF, based on partial results, show the measure passing by 52% to 48%.
Sunday’s referendum was put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which campaigned with slogans such as “Stop extremism”.
The government argued against the ban.
We’ve been through endless debates surrounding these so-called “burqa bans” in various European countries, but the appetite for them seemed to have died down over the past year or two. That’s apparently not the case in Switzerland, however. A 52-48 margin isn’t exactly an overwhelming majority, obviously, so I imagine they will continue arguing over it for some time to come.
This puts the Swiss in a bit of a tricky situation, however. They didn’t craft the referendum to specifically ban religious face coverings or call out the burqa or niqab specifically. The proposal simply said “face coverings.” The chairman of the committee organizing the referendum went so far as to say, “In Switzerland, our tradition is that you show your face. That is a sign of our basic freedoms.”
But at the same time, the wearing of face masks to stem the spread of the pandemic remains mandatory. In other words, the voters of Switzerland have now put themselves in a position where they will be breaking the law if they go to the store while wearing a face mask and also be in violation of the law if they show up without one. It’s the perfect lose-lose scenario.
This referendum does serve as a reminder of the double-edged sword that face masks became here in the United States. People were either required to wear masks or at least strongly encouraged to do so. But as soon as that became common practice, criminals were quick to adopt the practice while committing crimes, making it harder to ID suspects even if they were caught on camera. Masks were a regular feature during the BLM rallies throughout the summer of love last year, particularly among those who took the opportunity to loot all of the stores and set the buildings and police cars on fire once the sun went down.
The mask mandates in the United States are beginning to come to an end, thankfully. But that doesn’t mean that people are barred from wearing them. Those who remain worried about catching COVID are still free to do so in most stores and shop owners can still impose rules about mask usage if you wish to enter. So the problems with masked robbers and arsonists will be with us for some time to come. Just don’t try passing off your burqa as a COVID mask unless it’s made out of surgical quality cloth or better.