Europe: Interest in Burka-ban following Belgian vote

Europe: Interest in Burka-ban following Belgian vote

Last Thursday the lower house of the Belgian parliament passed a law banning the burka. It does not seem likely that this law will pass the Senate any time soon, but that did not prevent politicians elsewhere in Europe from calling for a continent-wide ban.

In Belgium, meanwhile, Muslims and human-rights activists say that the law conflicts with basic human rights.


After Belgium's parliament voted to ban Islamic full-face veils, the German vice-president of the European Parliament has called for a ban of the burka throughout Europe.

Silvana Koch-Mehrin called the full-body veil an attack on the rights of women in a guest editorial in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"I would like to see all forms of the burka banned in Germany and in all of Europe," wrote the politician, a member of Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP).

She called the burka a "mobile prison," saying that those who veil women take away their faces and therefore their personalities.

"The complete veiling of women is a blatant acknowledgement of values that we here in Europe do not share," she wrote.

She added that while she believed in the freedom of personal and religious expression, "that freedom should not be used to take away the public faces of people, at least not in Europe."



In Norway, the Progress Party's immigration spokesperson, Willy Amundsen, has been a big fan of a similar ban in Norway for a long time, and he sees Thursday's development in Belgium as very positive.

"Belgium's resolution is very interesting and an example to follow. I think more countries in Europe will follow," he told VG Nett.

The Norwegian Justice Ministry recently concluded such a ban would conflict with the European Convention of Human Rights.

Amundsen is skeptical about the Justice Ministry's handling of the issue. "I think the government, with Storberget at the head, is distracting attention and evading debate. We will make this into a real debate in Norway.

The Labor Party's immigration spokesperson, Lise Christoffersen, says the party is split on the question of a ban. She thinks a ban could be proper.

"I'm open for a ban, but I think that the debate should be broader than 'for' or 'again' the burka. This is about a basic lack of human rights for women," she told VG Nett.

Like Amundsen, she thinks Belgium decision will lead to a debate all over Europe.

"This debate comes regardless, so we can't try to avoid it. It will now be interesting to see how Belgium's resolution will be dealt with by the European Human Rights Convention".


Muslims, academics and human rights groups have hit out at a looming public ban in Belgium on the full face veil, following a decision in the country's parliament to make the wearing of the article of clothing illegal.

The vote on Thursday was almost unanimous with 134 MPs in support of the law and just two abstentions.

"I think they're trying to wind us up," Souad Barlabi, a young woman wearing a simple veil, said outside the Grand Mosque in Brussels, the Belgian capital, around the time of Friday prayers.

"We feel under attack," she said, a day after the politicians voted for the ban on clothes or veils that do not allow the wearer to be fully identified.

Amnesty International, a human rights group, said the measures must be reviewed by the upper house of parliament as they raise concerns about whether Belgium is in breach of international rights laws.

"A complete ban on the covering of the face would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who wear the burqa or the niqab," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's expert on discrimination in Europe.

"The Belgian move to ban full face veils, the first in Europe, sets a dangerous precedent."

The law, which still needs to be passed by Belgium's senate, will be imposed in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings "meant for public use or to provide services" to the public.

"We're the first country to spring the locks that have made a good number of women slaves, and we hope to be followed by France, Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherlands; countries that think," said Denis Ducarme, a liberal deputy.

People who ignore the ban could face a fine of $20 to $34 and, or, a jail sentence of up to seven days.

"It's just a pretext," said Samuel Bulte, a convert to Islam handing out flyers and religious objects in front of the mosque.

"How many robberies are committed wearing a burqa?

"I'm afraid that soon they're going to want to start putting crescents on the backs of Muslims," he said, in a reference to the yellow stars the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

Another man outside the mosque said: "The Virgin Mary also wore a veil. No one says anything about this."



Bruno Tuybens (SP.A.) abstained in the vote on the burka-ban, since he thinks it could reinforce the discrimination of women and since freedom of speech is an absolute for the socialist, except for very exceptional circumstances such as inciting to hatred or violence.

"We must watch out for a creeping erosion of that right. In addition we were also urged by Amnesty International not to pass this law," says Tubeyns, who is still active in the human rights organizations.

Isabelle Praile, vice-president of the Belgian Muslim Council, said that the law is trying to fight phantoms. "The burka is for me something that isn't found in Belgium, but mainly in Afghanistan." Praille thinks that the law is a threat for human rights.


Sheikh Abdurrahman, of the Al-Diraa mosque in the Saudi capital of Riyad, called on Muslims in Belgium to leave the country. "When a Muslim can't safeguard his religion, he should emigrate. God's land is big."

Sources: The Local, Al-Jazeera (English), VG (Norwegian), HLN, Trouw (Dutch), Die Welt (German)

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