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For The Sake Of National Security…

Sri Lanka plans to ban the wearing of the Burqa, an enveloping outer garment that covers the body and the face that is worn by women in some Islamic traditions, for the sake of National Security. The tiny Island Nation also plans to shut more than a thousand Madrasas or Islamic schools in the coming days. The Administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has claimed that those madrasas are not following the National Education Policy!

Sri Lankan Minister for Public Security Sarah Weerasekera confirmed the news a couple of days ago, saying that he had already signed a paper for Cabinet approval in order to ban the full face covering worn by some Muslim women on National Security grounds. “In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the Burqa. It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it,” he told the local media in Colombo.

Meanwhile, the Minority community has condemned the Rajapaksa Administration’s initiative, saying that the Government is undermining their Rights on the pretext of National Security. In fact, Sri Lanka had made a similar move in the past. The Government had imposed a temporary ban on Burqas after terrorists attacked several Churches and Hotels on Easter Sunday in April 2019. Around 250 people were killed in serial blasts at that time. After becoming President in November 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to uproot terrorism from Sri Lanka. It may be noted that Rajapaksa had been accused of violating the Rights of Minority community in the pretext of National Security during Sri Lanka’s decades-long Civil War against the Tamil Tiger Rebels. However, he denied the allegation, time and again!

The Government of Sri Lanka had also been accused of violating the Rights of Minority community even during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It had ordered that the bodies of Muslim COVID-19 patients be cremated, instead of burial. The Human Rights Organisations and the Global Community, including the US, put Colombo under tremendous diplomatic pressure over this particular issue, prompting the Rajapaksa Administration to withdraw the ban. Now, the Island Nation has, once again, triggered a fresh controversy by announcing that it would shut the Islamic schools.

Sarath Weerasekera

At a time when the tiny South Asian Nation is planning to ban Burqa, Switzerland has made the move thousands of miles away. Last week, the mountainous Central European country imposed a ban on full-face clothing in public. Switzerland held a Referendum on this particular issue on March 7, and 51.2% of the population voted against such clothing. Later, the Government issued a guideline in this regard, without mentioning the words Burqa or Niqab. The Government only stated that full-face clothing would be banned in Switzerland. Meanwhile, it has been mentioned that the ban will not remain in force in case of religious ceremonies and medical purposes (keeping in mind the use of mask in COVID-19 situation).

Many countries in Europe have imposed ban on Burqa after multiple ISIS attacks in the continent over the years. Before Switzerland, seven European countries – France, Germany, Austria, Denmark, Bulgaria, Belgium and Latvia – had made the same move. Switzerland, it may be said, had taken time to make the move.* As per Swiss rules, a Referendum will be held only if one can collect at least 100,000 votes in favour of a proposal. Nearly 8.6 million citizens of the country hold a referendum on such issues in every three months. Interestingly, only 50.8% of the people took part in the Referendum on Burqa Ban. Marco Chiesa, the leader of the Right-Wing Swiss People’s Party who had collected more than 100,000 signatures to pave the way for the Referendum, said: “We are glad. We don’t want radical Islam in our country at all.” Meanwhile, Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter stressed that the outcome of the Referendum was not a vote against Muslims. As per the 2019 Federal Statistical Office survey, only 5.5% of the Swiss population was Muslims, most of them originate from the Balkans and Turkey, and mostly live in the cities.

As expected, the move has disheartened the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS), which has issued a statement, saying that the ban is “a great disappointment for Muslims“, as “Islamophobia was now anchored in the Swiss Constitution”.

The wearing of Islamic veils in public has been a controversial topic in other European countries. France had banned wearing a full face veil in public in 2011, while the Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Bulgaria have put in place full or partial bans on wearing face coverings in public. The French Parliament began an initial inquiry on the issue shortly after then President Nicolas Sarkozy had stated in June 2009 that religious face veils were “not welcome” within France. He had also said that the Law was to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France’s secular values.

*It may be noted that the Swiss Guards, Italian Guardia Svizzera, corps of Swiss soldiers are held responsible for the safety of the Pope… termed “the world’s smallest Army”, they serve as personal escorts to the Pontiff and also as watchmen for Vatican City and the Pontifical Villa of Castel Gandolfo. During the World Wars, the country had been neutral… and such a decision from them, with the growing Anti-Muslim sentiment all over the world, comes as a natural, but tough outcome, seemingly.

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