«The full veil erases women from public space»

THE INTERVIEW

Saïda Keller-Messahli president of the Forum for a progressive Islam is among those most committed to the ban on facial concealment which will be voted on 7 March

 «The full veil erases women from public space»
«The full veil erases women from public space»

«The full veil erases women from public space»

«The full veil erases women from public space»

Among those most committed to « ban « face concealment (anti-burqa initiative) is Saïda Keller-Messahli, founder and president of the Forum for a progressive Islam. CDT reached out to hear more.

In Switzerland it is estimated that there are roughly thirty women wearing full veils and according to studies they do it voluntarily. Is it right to go and amend the Federal Constitution for such a marginal phenomenon?

«This study is being debated. Its author, researcher Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, spoke to just one woman with a full veil. The study speaks of women who have converted in Switzerland. It is a special category, precisely because they have voluntarily chosen to wear the burqa or the niqab. They did not do it under the pressure of society or the family. They are women who live in Switzerland. These women converts to Salafism are “hors-sol” Muslims who are causing great harm to the Muslim population in Switzerland».

In a democratic and open society, the principle that one must be able to see the other should apply

Is it correct to enable the Federal Constitution to stop these few women who choose the burqa or the niqab of their own free will?

«Yes, because in Switzerland, in a democratic and open society, the principle must apply that one must be able to look at another directly. An argument that comes from a former federal judge who is a member of the PS: Raymond Spira. We need to be able to communicate between citizens. These thirty women who choose to wear the burqa do not.

In Ticino and San Gallo, the two cantons in which the prohibition of face concealment is already in force, few or no fines have been imposed. Doesn’t that indicate how little this ban is required?

«For me it is not a question of mathematics, but of ethics. What the full veil represents is unacceptable: it is the cancellation of women from public space. The four schools of jurisprudence of Islam give a univocal answer: the woman’s body is indecent and shameless. Reason why it must be completely covered, unlike the male body. Sharia, Islamic law, is based on this misogynistic image of women. An image that is the source of violence against women in the Islamic context ».

But in Switzerland the law is not based on Sharia law.

«No, but these converts who experience Islam as something exotic and think that by covering their faces they become closer to God, I cannot take them seriously or even support them. What they present is a caricature of Islam based on a misogynistic symbol such as the burqa ».

The veil is not an obligation for Muslims is yours a fight against these women?

«No, I’m not vindictive. We must remind ourselves that the text of the initiative does not only speak of a full veil, but also of other people who can put our security at risk by hiding their identity. And I don’t like the initiative committee. Rather. Years ago I fought against the other initiative launched: the one against minarets. But the text being voted on today must be evaluated independently of the people who drafted it. You know, once on Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich I saw two female tourists with their faces covered and, since Arabic is my mother tongue, I approached them. They explained to me that they were on a shopping trip and that they had already been to Ticino before. I asked them how they had lived with the ban on the burqa already in place south of the Alps. They replied that they were pleased to remove the veil, since no one was staring at them anymore. They felt like everyone else. It seems to me an important message. Finally I asked them why they didn’t do the same thing in Zurich too. They told me they were used to dressing like that».

The full veil for them is a way to bring political, radical Islam to public places. Aren’t you afraid that the initiative will be used to increase Islamophobia?

«As mentioned, the text must be evaluated for what it contains. The initiative speaks of a general ban on the veil and is also directed against hooligans and rioters. It is the Salafists, with whom the burqa is at home, who help to increase hostility against Muslims. The full veil for them is a way to bring political, radical Islam to public places».

If we want to protect ourselves from political Islam, are there no other ways to do this?

«Various measures are needed. I support the initiative to give a signal. Those who support political Islam know what its freedoms are in democracy. They know they have freedom of religion and expression. They use these possibilities to achieve their goal: to get political Islam everywhere. We must not be naive ».

Saïda Keller-Messahli, 63, was born in Aouina, near Bizerte, in Northern Tunisia. She spent part of her childhood in Grindelwald. Later studying Roman Studies, English Literature and Film Sciences in Zurich. She is a Swiss-Tunisian freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist. She is the founder (in 2004) and president of the Forum for a Progressive Islam. In 2016 she received the Swiss Human Rights Award. The magazine «Schweizer Illustrierte» lists her among the 100 most important Zurich women.

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