Political Instrumentalization of Islam? Framing the Burqa as a Threat to National Values and Security in Switzerland and its Consequences (2018-2021)

Project Management

Dr. Dorothee Arlt (University of Bern)

Project Team

Dr. Dorothee Arlt, Dr. Beatrice Eugster, Dr. Franzisca Schmidt (Institute of Communication and Media Studies), Prof. Dr. Marc Bühlmann (Institute of Political Sciences), PD Dr. Elham Manea (Faculty of Humanities & University of Zurich, Institute for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies), Jasmine Sarah Benhaida (student assistant)

Project Finance

The Interfaculty Research Cooperation (IRC) «Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies» is financed by the University of Bern

Project Context

This research project is part of the Interfaculty Research Cooperation (IRC) «Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies» which deals with past and present religiously connoted conflicts and strategies for their processing. This interdisciplinary research network is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Katharina Heyden (Institute of Historical Theology) and Prof. Dr. med. Martino Mona (Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology).

Project Description (see also Project Poster)

The veiling of Muslim women continues to be a public controversy. In most cases, however, this controversy is not simply about the veil, but religion as well as religious symbols, rituals and beliefs are politically exploited. This is especially true of the Islam. In particular right-wing conservative and populist parties frame the Islam and its’ symbols as a threat to national values and security in order to promote stricter immigration and security policies (Wodak KhosraviNik, & Mral 2013). Hence, such framing mechanisms also come apparent in existing debates concerning the burqa and the initiative «Ja zum Verhüllungsverbot» (“Yes to the ban on self-disguise”) in Switzerland, that are accompanied by issues like cultural diversity, questions surrounding the role of ethnic minorities, the social integration of immigrants, public security, and Islamic terrorism. In modern societies, the media provide the main arenas in which such controversial issues are publicly discussed, and therefore, this research project deals with the role of the media in the Swiss burqa debate.
In the first step, we analyze the (strategic) framing of the burqa issue in the media and address the following research questions: (1) How do the media represent the Swiss burqa debate? Who are the leading actors? Which frames are used? (2) To what extend do the media construct images of (religious, political, cultural and value-based) conflicts related to the Swiss burqa debate?
In the second step, we examine the consequences of these media representations with the following question: (3) How do these media representations affect perceptions, attitudes, emotions, and behaviors of (a) the Swiss majority population, and b) the Muslim minority living in Switzerland?

Relevance of the Research Project for the IFC

Provide insights into and findings about…

  • the role of the media in religious conflicts; here especially in relation to the Swiss burqa debate.
  • the way the media represents the Islam in general and the Swiss burqa debate in relation to (religious, political, cultural and value-related) conflicts in particular.
  • media effects of on people’s awareness of potential conflicts between the Swiss majority population and the Muslim minority living in Switzerland.
  • media effects on the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours of the Swiss majority population on the one hand, and the Muslim minority living in Switzerland on the other hand.


  • Combination of manual and automated content analysis of media coverage on the Swiss burqa debate
  • Combination of quantitative online survey with Swiss population and qualitative focus groups with Muslims living in Switzerland
Poster IFK
Source: Interfaculty Research Cooperation Religious Conflicts and Coping Strategies: http://www.religious-conflicts.unibe.ch