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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Dutch ban on Burqas and Niqabs shown to be impractical on first day

The law that was passed in June last year banned all partial and full-face coverings, including helmets, hoods and balaclavas. However, due to the preceding rhetoric and unanimous support of the far-right for this move, it was perceived as targeting Muslim women.

News Desk |

First proposed by Geert Wilders, the far-right leader of the “Party for Freedom” in 2005, the burqa and niqab ban finally came into effect in the Netherlands on Thursday. While the law does not ban women from wearing their veils in all public spaces, public institutions like schools and hospitals do not allow burqas or niqabs any longer under the “Partial Ban on Face-covering Clothing Act.” Somewhat similar to France’s ban on religious symbols in public places and “Burkinis”, this law is simply another instance of thinly veiled discriminatory legislation against Muslims in the western world.

Earlier this year, when Canadian province Quebec moved to ban all religious symbols in public sector workplaces and buildings, MPs were questioned about why the crucifixes and wide array of other explicitly Christian imagery in the parliament was still allowed to stay up. They replied that this was part of their “heritage” and not simply a religious symbol. There is an old, established Muslim community originating from dozens of countries around the world in Quebec, and the failure to incorporate their symbolism into Quebec’s “mainstream heritage” or simply respect it is chilling.

They will not be allowed to go on a metro, bus or tram when the law is observed. They can’t go to a hospital, they can’t go to the schoolyard, they can’t report to a police station.

This ominous new law in the Netherlands, however, is proving to be unworkable. Transport services and hospitals in the public sector have both refused to comply with the ban in full spirit. Hospitals have categorically stated that they will treat patients regardless of whether or not they are wearing a face-covering.

Transport services were also clear that they would not press those wearing veils on the matter, and drivers would not go further than inform them of the illegality of the covering as that could cause major delays. Both departments ultimately said that the enforcement of the law is up to the police, but the police also seems to deem this a low-priority matter.

Pedro Peters, a spokesperson of the RET transport network, deemed the law impractical as he said, “The police have told us the ban is not a priority and that therefore they will not be able to respond inside the usual 30 minutes, if at all.”

Femke Halsema, the mayor of Amsterdam, expressed her disapproval of the law and signalled that the city’s authorities are not expected to enforce it. The “Green Left” leader has been scathing in her criticism of Wilders and his values for the duration of her political career.

Read more: Human Rights Watch has declared veil ban in Denmark as “latest in a harmful trend.”

International organizations have conflicting views on such bans. While the European court of human rights ruled in 2014 that such legislation was not a violation of the European convention on human rights, other bodies like Amnesty International have said that this is a blatant contravention of the right of women to dress as they choose and completely outside the ambit of what it is appropriate for a state to legislate on. The Netherlands joins a growing list of western countries including France, Denmark, Germany and the United states where anti-Islam and anti-immigrant sentiments are coupling to produce such backward legislation.

The Headscarf as the Next Target

The politically correct angle peddled by Wilders and his growing coterie of reactionaries for the burqa and niqab ban was that there is a threat to general public safety if an individual is unidentifiable in public spaces and that the ban also extends to helmets, balaclavas and other coverings. As the Dutch far-right declares headscarves as the new battlefront, it will be hard to find a palatable excuse for this move. However, this should be no great restraint for Wilders, whose most commonly used hashtag on Twitter is a blatantly discriminatory #StopIslam.

Nourdin El-Ouali is the leader of the Nida party in the Netherlands. He fears that these draconian measures portend more serious violations of the fundamental rights of Muslim citizens. For the current situation, he expressed a strong dismay “They will not be allowed to go on a metro, bus or tram when the law is observed. They can’t go to a hospital, they can’t go to the schoolyard, they can’t report to a police station,” he said to the Hart van Nederland news website.

Read more: Muslim country, Morocco bans sale of burqas: violation of female rights?

He raised valid concerns about the direct, aggressive prejudice implicit in this sort of legislation. In a country where less than a thousand women are known to wear burqas and only a few more citizens wear the Hijab (headscarf), there was no great feat achieved for the country of 17 million by this measure.

Earlier, a newspaper even outlined a set of steps the average citizen can take if they see someone in a burqa or niqab trying to violate this law.