Belgium looks poised to become the first country in Europe to ban items of clothing, include the burka and the niqab, which hides identity in public spaces. The Bill was passed easily in the lower house and may become law as early as next month.
No MPs voted against the ban, which also has widespread public support. It seems that Belgium will decisively choose that full-face veils have no place in its society.
The ban is generally aimed at clothing that hides a person’s identity. Supporters argue the law is a necessary measure for public security.
Daniel Bacquelaine, head of Belgium’s liberal Reformist Movement Party, is adamant that the ban would not constitute a violation of human rights, stating: “It’s not about introducing any form of discrimination”.
Some feel that face veils form a barrier for interacting with the person beneath it. For the purpose of improved social integration and cohesion, banning clothing that conceals a person’s identity is an admirable step.
Critics have argued that being unable to see a person’s face while talking to them constitutes a serious impediment to being able to engage in meaningful communication.
Societies that enforce the wearing of full-face veils are places where women are oppressed and subjugated. In Afghanistan, women are forced to where the burka by the Taliban, and as such it represents an instrument of intolerance and forced submission.
Belgium’s move to ban it, and other face-veils, is a move to be applauded. “A civilized society cannot accept the imprisonment of women”, emphasises Bacquelaine.
Tunisia has already banned the wearing of the niqab. In Turkey, wearing a headscarf is banned in public office and universities on the grounds that it is incompatible with the ideals of a secular society.
Belgium’s bill is likely to undergo considerable opposition from human rights organizations.
Sarkozy has already said that full veils “threaten the dignity of women” and have no place in France.
Amnesty International has already criticised it, saying it sets a “dangerous precedent”. Undeniably, the line between preserving the right to freedom of expression and promoting integration and cross-cultural dialogue is tenuous and ambiguous.
Belgium may be the first European country to ban full-face veils, but it’s unlikely to be the last. France has been on the brink of introducing similar legislation. French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, has already said that full veils “threaten the dignity of women” and have no place in France.
Whilst such a ban seems a distant possibility in the UK, Italy and the Netherlands are also contemplating a similar legislation to Belguim.
Europe will be watching with interest to see whether the Belgian bill becomes law. The Netherlands are also contemplating a similar ban.