Compared to the Swiss federal referendum on September 22, Ticino cantonal vote regarding the ban of full veils in public space attracts smaller attention. However, the issue is not negligible as a country accepting a large number of foreign workers, international students and asylum seekers. It is not an easy topic to tackle due to the complexity of the problem, and the proposal on the prohibition of veils raises significant questions about the integration of migrants in the host society.
The ban of veils is not a new story and has been vividly mentioned in Europe in the last several years. In France, this topic acquired attention when the government has passed the law prohibiting the use of face-covering garments in 2010. Some said that the use of veils prevents the clear identification of a person and poses a threat to national security. Others argued that this law was just a xenophobic response from the native population.
Having observed the controversies in the neighboring country, a canton in Switzerland has put veil ban on the agenda. A leading actor of this proposal, Giorgio Ghiringhelli, argues that this proposition is aiming at the prohibition of veils especially in sport events and manifestations. He also claims that “security will be improved”, despite the fact that Muslim residents in this canton represent only 1% of the total Ticino population. Several Swiss newspapers estimate that this proposal will be approved, but the percentage is not clear. If this referendum will be approved, migrants and ethnic minorities will feel the dilemma between respect to host community culture and preservation of their own customs. It might also raise strong reaction from the women who chose to wear full-covering veils, and will further enlarge the distance between the native community and migrants.
This referendum raises the question of understanding cultural identity and diversities. The wearing of burqa or niqab is one of those issues that makes many people profoundly uneasy. For some, it is a simple profession of faith; for others, it is an act of defiance and rejection of the local customs and society, or a question of female submission. The imperatives that current migration trends impose on European countries bring to light a number of issues that need to be addressed. Can one wear a full-covering veil and still be integrated in the host community? What does integration in the host community actually mean? What are the patterns and dynamics of cultural integration? How do they differ across migrants of different ethnic groups and religions? How do they differ across host societies? What are the implications and consequences for public policy?
Independently of the outcome of this referendum, it is certain that the debate will continue after the vote. Although little is mentioned in the media for the moment, this topic should not be neglected and discussions from both sides, natives and migrants, are needed.