Dutch government proposes a ban on wearing burqas in public
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Dutch government announced plans Friday for legislation banning full-length veils in public places and other clothing that covers the face – putting the Netherlands at the forefront of a general European hardening toward Muslim minorities.The Netherlands, once considered one of Europe’s most welcoming nations for immigrants and asylum seekers, is deeply divided over moves by the government to stem the tide of new arrivals and compel immigrants to assimilate into Dutch society.”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,” Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk told national broadcaster NOS. She said the ban also would apply to 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 all-enveloping 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. “This is a big law for a small problem,” said Ayhan Tonca of the CMO.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.In the past, a majority of the Dutch parliament has said it would approve a ban on burqas, but opinion polls ahead of national elections 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.”I’m very much worried that in the Muslim community many people will see this as Islam bashing,” he said.Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen, also of the opposition Labor party, said he would like to see burqas disappear, although 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, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the center-right’s leading presidential candidate, has made overtures to the country’s Muslims, but has also said those who do not love France do not have to stay, echoing a longtime slogan of the extreme-right National Front: “France, love it or leave it.”Germany, also with a large Muslim immigrant community, has a law banning teachers in public schools from wearing head scarves, but no burqa ban. In Belgium, one mayor banned burqas, but there is no general ban in force across the country.In the Netherlands, 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 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 of her Dutch citizenship.About 1 million Muslims live in the Netherlands, about 6 percent of the population of 16 million, but only a few hundred are believed to regularly wear a burqa.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.