The Swiss Won’t Miss the Burqa

The Wall Street Journal:

Voters ban the ‘face’ of Islamist separatism in Western society.

Switzerland voted in a referendum on Sunday to ban face coverings, and it wasn’t a revolt against Covid restrictions. Medical masks are excluded from the prohibition. Its real target is the burqa.

The measure, approved 51% to 49%, prohibits the wearing of full facial coverings in public. No specific garment or religion is mentioned, and the proposal is sex-neutral. The ban includes the balaclavas beloved by anarchists as well as the facial draping worn by some Muslim women. Yet there was never any doubt about the intent. The proposal was introduced by, among others, the nativist Swiss People’s Party, whose campaign featured posters of a black-veiled woman.

Switzerland joins Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany in restricting the burqa. A challenge to the French ban was dismissed by the European Court of Human Rights. European democracies differ from America’s in notable ways, and many Americans have reservations about the Swiss prohibition: Aren’t burqa bans an illiberal curbing of religious and expressive freedom? By some reports, fewer than 100 women in Switzerland wear the burqa. Do they constitute so great a threat to the venerable Swiss nation that their constitution, which guarantees freedom of faith and conscience, has to be amended to alter their sartorial practice?

Aware that judgments from afar can sometimes be glib, I put these questions to Elham Manea, author of a book published last month titled “The Perils of Nonviolent Islamism.” A Swiss Muslim of Yemeni descent, she teaches at the University of Zurich’s Political Science Institute and campaigned for the prohibition with “a group of like-minded feminists, leftists and Swiss of Muslim heritage.” (She stresses that she distanced herself from the Swiss People’s Party.)

Ms. Manea is quick to dismiss the argument that the ban curbs freedom.

You can’t separate the burqa and niqab from their “religious and political contexts” and turn this into “a simple question of ‘choice.’ ” The burqa didn’t “come out of nowhere” and Muslim women haven’t “decided to embrace it on a whim.”

Many Western feminists, she says, tend to “neutralize the context, as if it is of no consequence.” She urges those who are squeamish about the ban to ask which ideology teaches women to cover themselves completely. What are its theological features? What does it say about women?

In her view, the burqa is the “face” of Islamist separatism in Western societies. It represents a form of Islam that “leads to the secession of Muslim minorities” into closed enclaves, paving the ground for radicalizing “disoriented youth.” So when we see women in burqas in the West, Ms. Manea warns, “think of the ideology they embody. It is not choice we should look at in this discussion,” but the consequences of leaving the dangers unaddressed.

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