8 August 2011
By Lenka Kantnerova, JTW
Debate over prohibiting the wearing of burqas or niqabs, face-covering cloths, in public has again occupied the news.
Two member states of the European Union, France and Belgium, have already adopted a law banning women from wearing the veil which covers the face. Governments have supported this act with arguments that Islamic clothes are in contrariety to European values and gender equality, and have also touched on security-related factors. Furthermore, the punishment for any woman who violates the ban is a fine of 137.50 euros in Belgium and 200 dollars in France.
Only a few days ago, similar to France and Belgium, Italy also approved a draft law to ban the burqa in public. The proposed penalty in Italy is 100 to 300 euro. Moreover, third parties pressuring a woman to wear face-covering cloths would face a fine of 30,000 euros and possible jail time up to 1 year.
Some European countries, for example Albania and Kosovo, do not ban the wearing of those clothes publicly, but restrict their wearing in public school. On the other hand, among countries which have rejected similar proposals are the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain.
The line between religious expression and being forced to wear the burqa is too thin to easily distinguish the motives behind adopting the attire. The issue of whether or not to restrict Islamic clothing is exceedingly sensitive as it is related to the topic of personal freedoms. Consequently, positions on this topic are quite diverse. On the one hand, people disagree with bans and warn of a rise in Islamophobia and an increasingly anti-Muslim climate as outcomes of the anti-burqa legislation. Among them is Rachid Nekkaz, a French businessman who has decided to pay every fine imposed on women wearing burqas or niqabs in Belgium. He claims that this kind of regulation violates basic human rights. On the other hand, supporters of the legislation underline the importance of gender equality and integration of those women into society.