Belgian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to ban wearing the Islamic burqa or niqab in public. Other European countries might follow suit.
In the lower house of the Belgian federal parliament, 136 deputies voted for a nationwide ban. There were no abstentions, and no one voted against the bill. The ban will be imposed in all public spaces.
Violators of the new law risk a fine of 15 to 25 euros and/or a prison sentence of one to seven days. All governing and opposition parties agreed on the law, based on the argument that women wearing burqas cannot be identified. The upper house of parliament has two weeks to object to the decision.
The move was condemned by Muslim and Catholic leaders, and by human rights group Amnesty International.
A similar ban is being considered in other countries, including Denmark and France. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already ordered legislation paving the way for a ban on the full Islamic veil.
In the Netherlands, a burqa ban is one of the main planks of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party manifesto for next month’s general election. Wilders claims that Islamic veils are a sign of a “backward culture” in which women are considered inferior to men, in violation of Dutch law.
Imam Fawaz Jneid of the al-Sunna mosque in The Hague says, “This isn’t about the niqab or the headscarf. The cause is the fear of the arrival of Islam in Europe. They’re trying to stop this in a roundabout way.”
Chaista Khan was born in the Netherlands and wears a burqa. She said she will leave the country if a burqa ban is introduced. “It’s not easy. This is the country in which we were born, in which we were raised, so this is a last option. I love Holland as well.”