Dutch parliament votes to ban burqa in public buildings

The government of the Netherlands became the latest in Europe to approve a face-covering ban on Tuesday. 

Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters/File
A woman who identified herself as Nayet, wearing a burqa, is seen after her release from a police station in Paris. France's ban on full face veils – the first in Europe – went into effect in 2011.

The Netherlands followed several of its European neighbors on Tuesday, as it voted to ban wearing the Islamic full-face burqa in certain public places.

The burqa ban met overwhelming approval in the lower house of Parliament, where 132 out of 150 members voted to pass the law. Traditionally a liberal, accepting country, the Netherlands’ decision to ban burqas is indicative of mounting racial tensions across Europe.

"Everyone has the right to dress as he or she wishes," said government officials in a statement. "That freedom is limited only where it is essential for people to see each other, for example to ensure good service or security."

The law is not universal, nor does it apply solely to burqas. It is only in public buildings such as hospitals, government buildings, public transport, and schools that individuals must keep their faces visible for identification purposes. And, like burqas, any headgear that covers the face and head, such as helmets and ski masks, is also banned in those places.

The Netherlands has actually been considering such a ban for some time – the cabinet approved the ban last year, but decided not to go through with it.

Now, several European terrorist attacks later, the Netherlands has joined neighboring Belgium, France, and parts of Switzerland in banning face coverings.

While Dutch officials are billing the ban as a common sense measure, opponents of the law say that it is not only prejudicial, but also restricts personal freedoms. Some say that it is the product of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s pandering to the newly popular anti-Islam opposition Freedom Party.

Critics of the measure also point to the small number of Dutch women (about 150) who sometimes or always wear the veil as evidence that the ban is restrictive rather than common sense.

"It is reprehensible to exclude these women and isolate them because of a subject anxiety among certain citizens," said Dutch MP Tunahan Kuzu.

There is relatively little love for MP Kuzu’s position in Europe at the moment, however. In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights upheld France’s veil ban, which the country introduced in 2011.

This summer, after a terrorist attack in Nice, France, several localities opted to ban the burkini, a full body swimsuit favored by Muslim women.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on France’s burkini bans in August:

The Cannes rule forbids attire that is "not respectful of good morals and secularism."

"Beachwear which ostentatiously displays religious affiliation, when France and places of worship are currently the target of terrorist attacks, is liable to create risks of disrupting public order," the regulations say, echoing fears of deepened religious tensions in the wake of the recent attacks.

Critics say that instead of decreasing tensions, the Cannes measure could instead make things worse. Those who refuse to comply with the burkini ban will be forced to leave the beach and pay a 38 Euro fine, about US $42.

France’s burkini bans were swiftly followed by burqa or veil ban proposals in Germany, a country that is known for its comparatively permissive attitude towards foreigners.

Rapidly expanding sanctions against the veil, from the Netherlands’ recent veil ban to French attempts to ban the burkini, are being seen as indicative of mounting racial tensions in Europe.

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