Monday, November 20, 2006

Muslims Mad At Proposed Burqa Ban

Dutch Muslims have hit out at a proposed government ban of face veils, saying it was over the top, ill-conceived and infringed religious rights. The Dutch cabinet said it was proposing a bill banning clothing that covers the face in public, targeting in particular Muslim woman wearing the burqa or niqab. The burqa is an Islamic veil covering the entire face and body and a mesh screen to see through, while the niqab is a veil covering the face but leaving the eye area clear. The garments are worn by a few dozen women in the Netherlands. Rita Verdonk, minister of immigration and integration, said the bill proposed a ban on the basis that covering the face constituted a risk to public order and safety. The ban would be imposed in public and "semi-public" places such as schools, courts, ministries and trains, her spokesman Martin Bruinsma told reporters."In this country, we want to be able to see each other. The ban is a question of security," daily De Telegraaf quoted the minister as saying. But representatives of the country's Muslim population were unimpressed. "They are going to have to find a better argument than security. It is an infringement on the freedom of religion," said Ahmed Markouch, a Moroccan mosques representative. He predicted that the bill would go down badly with the country's sizeable Muslim population, "because it comes from Verdonk, not because they are in favour of the burqa." Green Party lawmaker Mustapha Laboui, who is of Moroccan origin, said that although he believed the wearing of the burqa in Dutch society was "not logical", he was sceptical as to the bill's legality. And Ayhan Tonca from the CMO, a group representing Muslims, said that such a law would be "useless". "The existing laws are sufficient for dealing with the problems. It's over the top, a law for a dozen people!," Tonca told reporters.As in many European countries, the integration of immigrants is a hot topic in the Netherlands, and the bill comes just days before legislative elections. "Iron Rita", as Verdonk has been dubbed, has made a name for herself with hard-hitting immigration policies and measures meant to foster integration into Dutch society. Since March, for example, would-be immigrants have to pass a test showing they have a basic understanding of the Dutch language and society, and the government has also tabled a bill that would force certain immigrants holding a Dutch passport to take courses on integration. For Dutch newspapers, news of the bill came as little surprise and coverage was light. For daily De Telegraaf, "The veil is coming down on the burqa." "In the past, the minister (Verdonk) has already made it known that she saw the burqa as a 'symbol of division and of separate worlds'," Volkskrant said. Newspapers said that the immigration ministry had been working for the past year to make the bill legally watertight. "There are some (legal) tensions, but it is possible to formulate it in such as way as to ensure it is not contentious," a spokesman for the immigration ministry told Volkskrant.