French National Assembly to debate the ban in early July
Belgium’s lower house of Parliament voted on April 29 to ban the burqa and niqab from being worn in public areas by Muslim women. The full-face veils conceal the person’s identity and conflict with a secular society.
Although local governments throughout Europe have already enacted laws banning women from wearing the veils in public, those bans were not strongly enforced. However, with the passage of this new law, women who are found wearing burqas will be either fined or sentenced to about a week in prison.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed that his country do the same, infamously declaring in 2009 that burqas “are not welcome in France.” He and other European political leaders believe that these coverings (often worn voluntarily) are not religious symbols but rather signs of their inequality and subservience to men.
The French legislators advocating for this bill to become a law give various reasons for it. It is unfair that a person can see others but no one can see her. The general concern is about not being able to identify a person in public, underneath the veil – a worry throughout Europe with the influx of Fundamentalist Muslims from Northern Africa and the Middle East.
As Europe is a secular society, being completely concealed is seen as incompatible with an open, liberal, tolerant society. Religious garments worn in public areas – including schools, sports grounds and public buildings – could be construed as conspicuous, according to some BBC News reports.
On May 19, the French cabinet voted to ban the wearing of full-face burqas. The proposal will be presented before the French parliament in July and will then go to the Senate in September.
With Parliament’s unanimous vote, Belgium is the first European country to ban the burqa and niqab.
Previously, France banned the wearing of headscarves and other religious items in public schools – including Jewish skullcaps and Christian crucifixes in 2004 – though with Parliament’s unanimous vote, Belgium is the first European country to ban the burqa and niqab. In a population of about 600,000, only thirty women wear this form of veiling, according to British newspaper The Guardian.
“I am proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter,” stated Denis Ducarme, a member of Belgium’s parliament.
Despite the negative reaction from its Muslim citizens, many European countries are considering implementing bans of their own. Along with France, Germany has already banned the wearing of religious headscarves in certain public places. A headscarf ban had been in place since 1997 in Turkish universities before amendments were passed to ease restrictions, according to the BBC. In January, Danish legislators recommended banning the burqa, but after learning that less than five women in the entire country wore them and only about two hundred women wore the slightly more revealing niqab, the nation with a population of around five million people decided it was unnecessary.
European Muslims must carefully tread the secular and religious line. Most want to be considered fully integrated members of their new societies, while not compromising their deep spiritual beliefs. The general consensus from their European compatriots seems to be that if Muslims are going to remain in Europe, they must live by European rules—even if that means shedding their own beliefs and clothes to assimilate.
Even with the European intention to liberate Muslim women, the Muslim Executive of Belgium warns that this law may just make these women prisoners in their homes. The Belgian government, however, is adamant that they are trying to release these women from their “walking prisons.”
- Italy, 2005: Parliament approved anti-terrorist laws that made hiding one’s features in public – including wearing the burqa – an offense
- Denmark, 2008: government bans judges from wearing headscarves and other religious or political symbols in courtrooms
- Germany: four states banned teachers and government employees from wearing Muslim headscarves
- Turkey: banned headscarves in universities and public offices. In February, constitutional changes lifted the ban on female students wearing headscarves in universities. Turkey is 99% Muslim.
By Maritza Moulite
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