Dutch government proposes a ban on wearing burqas in public

The Dutch government, facing re-election next week, said yesterday it plans to draw up legislation "as soon as possible" banning the head-to-toe garment known as burqas and other clothing that covers the entire face in public places.

The announcement puts the Netherlands, once considered one of Europe's most welcoming nations for immigrants and asylum seekers, at the forefront of a general European hardening of attitudes toward Muslim minorities.

"The Cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing - including the burqa - is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens," Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said in a statement.

"From a security standpoint, people should always be recognizable and from the standpoint of integration, we think people should be able to communicate with one another," Verdonk told national broadcaster NOS. She said the ban also would cover headgear like ski masks and full-faced helmets.

Basing the order on security concerns apparently was intended to respond to warnings that outlawing clothing like the burqa, worn by some Muslim women, could violate the constitutional guarantee against religious discrimination.

The main Dutch Muslim organization CMO has been critical of any possible ban. The idea was "an overreaction to a very marginal problem" because hardly any Dutch women wear burqas anyway, said Ayhan Tonca of the CMO. "It's just ridiculous."

"This is a big law for a small problem," he said. Tonca estimated that as few as 30 women in the Netherlands wear a burqa and said the proposed law could be unconstitutional if it is interpreted as targeting Muslims.

He also said that the security argument did not stand up. "I do not think people who have bad things in their minds would wear a burqa," he said.

In the past, a majority of the Dutch parliament has said it would approve a ban on burqas, but opinion polls in advance of national elections on Nov. 22 suggest a shift away from that position, and it is unclear if a majority in the new parliament would still back the government-proposed ban.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a lawmaker with the opposition Labor Party which does not support a general ban, condemned the proposal as "a symbolic move by Verdonk for political reasons."

"A general ban is way out of line, and I'm very much worried that in the Muslim community many people will see this as Islam bashing," he said.

Amsterdam's mayor, Job Cohen, also of the opposition Labor party, said he would like to see burqas disappear, though he did not advocate a ban.

"From a viewpoint of integration and communication, naturally it's very bad," he told reporters. "You can't speak with each other if you can't see each other, so in that sense, I'd say myself the less (it's worn), the better."

The issue has resonance throughout Europe. Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recently caused a stir by saying he wants Muslim women to abandon the full-face veil - a view endorsed by Prime Minister Tony Blair. In France, the center-right's leading presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has championed tougher immigration laws that critics say amount to an appeal to far-right voters.

Germany, which also has a large Muslim immigrant community, has a law banning teachers in public schools from wearing head scarves, but no burqa ban. In Belgium, one local mayor banned burqas, but there is no general ban in force across the country.

Italy has a law requiring people to keep their face visible in public that dates back to the country's crackdown on domestic terrorism decades ago.

In Holland, policies associated with the nationalist fringe in 2002 have been co-opted by the center: holding asylum-seekers in detention centers, more muscle for the police and intelligence services, and visa examinations that require would-be immigrants to watch videos of homosexuals kissing and of topless women on the beach. Everyone must learn to speak Dutch, and Muslim clerics must mind what they say in their Friday sermons for fear of deportation.

The Netherlands is deeply divided over moves by the government to stem the tide of new arrivals and compel immigrants to assimilate into Dutch society. The issue was given added urgency with the 2004 slaying of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim fanatic and the failed attempt to expel a Somali-born critic of Islam.

Around one million Muslims live in the Netherlands, about 6 percent of the population of 16 million.

After France banned the wearing of head scarves in public schools, the Dutch government decided to leave that question up to individual schools. Most allow head scarves.

The city of Utrecht has cut some welfare benefits to unemployed women who insist on wearing burqas to job interviews. The city claimed the women were using the burqa to avoid working, since they knew they would not be hired.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral