More European countries are moving toward making it illegal for Muslim women to wear burqas--full Islamic face veils--in public. For many of them, however, burqas are part of their culture. Forcing them to abandon them has been termed an act of “cultural warfare.” The bans can include hefty fines. Municipalities in some Belgian areas prohibit any full face covering, and violations can mean fines of over $30 and even a week in jail. Two dozen municipalities already ban their use. If Belgium’s parliament adopts a current bill, it would be the first European country to impose a nationwide ban.
France has begun its own steps toward a ban, with President Sarkozy claiming that “the burqa has no place there.” Netherlands too is considering a ban. Some cities in Italy already have prohibitions in place. A young Tunisian woman in the northern city of Novara was fined for wearing a face veil that covered her face except for her eyes. She was on her way with her husband to prayers at a local mosque. The law forbids women from wearing clothing in public that prevents the police from identifying the wearer. The Tunisian woman must pay of fine of $650. The police inspector in Novara said that said, “we just enforced a local law that stops people from covering their faces near sensitive places like schools, hospitals and post offices.” Now Italy’s conservative Northern League is pressing for national legislation.
Not all European governments see the ban as desirable. Germany’s foreign minister, Thomas de Maiziere, for example, has said that imposing a ban on face veils is both “inappropriate and unnecessary.” Not surprisingly, European Muslim leaders have condemned the bans as discriminatory. Critics worldwide have said that the bans are in violation of the right to freedom of expression and of religious freedom, and point out that it would also worsen the growing intolerance toward Muslims in Europe. They are correct.
George Anderson, S.J.