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Comment storm ‘Excellent’ or ‘bigoted’? Readers react to St Gallen burka ban

Women in burkas going shopping in Geneva

Shopping in Geneva, where women are allowed to cover their faces


Certain topics are guaranteed to generate heated comments from readers. On Sunday, two-thirds of voters in a Swiss canton decided to ban face coverings in public – with Muslim women in mind. The article went viral and reaction from readers flooded in. Here’s a representative selection. 

The news that St Gallenexternal link in northeastern Switzerland had become the second Swiss canton after Ticino to ban face coverings didn’t come as a huge surprise, but it still stole the limelight from the three national votesexternal link on Sunday. 

Readers left a range of opinions on’s English and Arabic sites and social media. We rejected about a third of reader comments on the English page for breaching our terms of use, in this case usually for being offensive or discriminatory. 

Of the posts we approved, around 50% agreed with the ban and 10% disagreed with it. Some 40% were generally neutral about Islam and wanted to get other things off their chest. 

‘Nothing to do with Islam’ 

Let’s start with the ‘neutrals’. Awake guy, concerned about Big Brother, wrote: “It has nothing to do with Islam – that’s just a trap to promote it in Western countries. The ban is to make it illegal to be in public while covering your face. How else will cameras in the streets, government buildings like the Post, travel hubs like subways, train stations and airports be able to use facial recognition and tracking software if you are allowed to wear a mask?” 

Rafiq Tschannen agreed with the cantonal police director – and several other readers – that burkas in St Gallen were simply a non-issue. “The whole thing’s stupid. How many St. Gallen residents wear the burka? Can you name one? The only burka-wearing ladies that I’ve seen in Geneva and Zurich are tourists from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of them have gold and platinum credit cards.” 

Several Arabic readers cited political rights in general and Switzerland’s system of direct democracy in particular. 

“The Swiss have the right to vote on whatever affects them, and everyone should respect this,” wrote Sutter Karamela

“Arab countries ban Europeans from drinking alcohol and it’s their right to do so,” said Amin Altayeb. “By the same logic, the Swiss also have the right to ban the wearing of the niqab.” 

Not that everyone was happy with the Swiss system. Juste Mustapha, for example, said: “I thought the Swiss were pioneers when it came to women’s rights and implementing them. Isn’t wearing a burka a woman’s right? Please don’t try to trick us via democracy.” 

When in Rome… 

That said, one of the most common arguments in support of the ban was the defence of women’s rights. 

“Excellent news. The oppression and subjugation of women in Islam is totally unacceptable in a civilised society,” said Yoseliani

Other arguments were variants on “When in Rome” and the importance of integration. 

“This has nothing to do with who wears what,” reckoned Stein. “Years ago, you could wear anything, and no one would care. The burka is a symbol of what a majority (thank god) do not want here. For those who do not want to integrate in healthy western society there’s no place here. Simple as that.” 

Barbara Spoerri wrote: “Just go and visit their country and see what women who visit have to comply with. We Swiss always feel we should accommodate everyone, learn everybody’s language.” 

“This has nothing to do with hate,” said Patty Taylor. “They are in other countries and they do not want to assimilate to other countries’ laws.” 

Security was also a factor during the campaign. “These ladies wearing a burka (and possibly men) look intimidating,” said PropD. “Not only that, you never know if someone is under there ready to commit a crime, i.e. terrorist act, and there’s no chance to identify them.” 

VeraGottlieb said: “I don’t care what they wear and where but … the face should always be fully recognisable.” 

‘Embrace diversity!’ 

Finally, to the minority who expressly rejected the result in St Gallen. 

“I don’t agree with the ban at all,” said Luis Angeles. “That’s like telling ladies that are old school religion to stop wearing those long church skirts. […] Let’s stop this hate. Be positive not negative.” 

Dave76 wrote: “I can’t believe all the narrow-minded bigoted comments here. You need to embrace diversity and celebrate difference in cultures. SHAME ON YOU ALL”.

Guide to burkas and niqabs

‘Never seen a burka here’

The vote results also sparked discussion at the Bloomberg Global Business Forumexternal link in New York, where Swiss President and Home Affairs Minister Alain Berset said that the ban was “not a good thing, but also a sign of unease in the population”.

He added that he had never seen a burka in Switzerland, and pointed out that voters were reacting to something that they had not seen either.

Berset on CNN

man in suit

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