Political Instrumentalization of Islam? Framing the Burqa as a Threat to National Values and Security in Switzerland and its Consequences (2018-2022)

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

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.

The research project has two objectives: Firstly, to examine the relations between media use and the perceptions, attitudes and behavioural intentions of the Swiss population towards Islam, Muslims and the popular initiative "Yes to the ban on veiling" (quantitative online survey with Swiss population). Secondly, to analyse the actors, issues and frames in media discourse about Islam and the Swiss burqa debate (manual and automated content analysis). Of particular interest in this context is whether and to what extend the media construct images of (religious, political, cultural and value-based) conflicts related to the Swiss burqa debate.

Publications and Presentations

  • Eugster, B., & Arlt, D. (2019). «Burka-lnitiative»: So denkt die Schweiz. Erste Ergebnisse aus dem Forschungsprojekt «Politische lnstrumentalisierung des lslams»  der Universität Bern. DemoSCOPE news 2/2019, 4-5.