Belgium enacts Europe's first ban on Muslim veils


From the TimesOnline (UK). Legislators in Belgium voted almost unanimously to ban full face coverings for Muslim women on Thursday. While women will still be allowed to wear the hijab, which only covers their hair, in public places the veil ban will forbid them from wearing any veil or scarf that covers their face and stops them from being identified.

The move comes at a time when tensions between Muslims and non-Muslim Europeans are reaching unprecedented highs. A number of other European countries are considering similar bans and prohibitions against the Muslim community that are being widely decried by members of the Islamic community and human rights groups.

In the lower house, all politicians voted in favor of the ban except for two who abstained. Now the bill must pass before the senate for final approval where it is expected to pass without any serious challenges.

Most Muslims in Belgium come from North Africa and some from Turkey, where the full facial covering is not common among Muslim women, says Allen Keiswetter, a Middle East expert and scholar at the Middle East Institute who has lived in Belgium.

As a result, he says, this new ban “will not affect a large number of people, but symbolically I think it could be an example of the increasing tension that has occurred between the Muslims and the non-Muslim Belgians.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also said, “The burqa has no place in France.” Ignoring warnings about the questionable constitutionality of such a ban, Mr. Sarkozy and the French government have pledged to pass a ban by September, reports The Washington Post.

As in Belgium and most parts of Europe, it is uncommon to see women fully covered. Of the 5 million Muslims in France, according to the French Interior Ministry, fewer than 2,000 women wear a veil that covers their entire face.

Italy and the Netherlands have proposed similar laws and politicians in Switzerland and Austria have also suggested enacting burqa bans.

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