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


News Analysis |

On 1st August 2018, Denmark faced the backlash from thousands of women protestors who took to the streets in order to express their distaste on a recent ban on veils in Denmark which became effective on Wednesday. Women of various religions, color and casts joined together in mutual collaboration in a demonstration against this ban which was seen firsthand by many in the Danish city of Copenhagen.

On Wednesday, ‘the Danish veil ban’ incited much hatred, setting off protests and reigniting a debate over a law, which according to rights groups ‘discriminates against Muslim women’. The protestors in central Copenhagen included Muslim women wearing the traditional Muslim face veil known commonly as ‘Niqab’ and fully covered ‘burqas’ and dozens of supporters wearing makeshift coverings and handkerchiefs tied across their faces.

The European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s ban on the wearing of face veils in public, ruling that the country could be allowed to implement it in order to enhance people’s ability to “live together” pursuant to the “protection of rights of others.”

This Danish law was passed in May 2018, and didn’t specifically mention targeting the Muslim dress/attire, however analysts beg to differ on the law which states, “anyone who wears a garment that hides the face in public will be punished with a fine”. First-time offenders face fines of 1,000 Danish kroner, around $150. Fake beards, balaclavas, and other face masks are also banned under the mandate of this new law.

Danish police did not find the protesters or intervene during their march because under the alleged mandate of this new law protesters who cover their faces while peacefully exercising their right of expression are exempt from the ban. One such similar demonstration took place in the second largest city of Denmark, Aarhus as well.

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At the center of the various marches were women protestors wearing normal clothing, bare legs, and exposed shoulders, as veiled faces blended with unveiled ones and covered heads blended with uncovered ones, of black, blonde and red.

The protest which caught most attention began near Mjølnerparken, a housing complex consisting of a high population of immigrants, which the government describes as a ‘parallel society’ due to their lack of integration in the Danish society and crime rate. This protest ended with the formation of a ‘human chain’ near one of Copenhagen’s main police stations.

Message to all; “Fingers away from my Naqab”

Protestors were seen carryings signs and posters with messages such as, “Fingers away from my niqab” and “My clothes, my choice.” Sources indicate that a group called ‘Kvinder-i-Dialog’ or ‘Women in Dialogue’ assisted in organizing such demonstrations. They have been trending on various social media, where this new law faced reservations on part of Danish Muslim women who declared this law as one which “discriminates, criminalizes and suppresses a minority”. In this attempt at making a difference, members of Women in Dialogue received threats by some haters as well.

‘The Danish veil ban’ incited much hatred, setting off protests and reigniting a debate over a law, which according to rights groups ‘discriminates against Muslim women’.

Many women gave their statements to media and expressed their distaste for this law. One such protestor Sabrina, 21 years old stated, “I’m not going to take my niqab off, but will try to continue my education.” And “To wear the niqab is a spiritual choice and now a sign of protest.” In addition, “The only result of this law is that we’re going to stick more firmly to our faith and niqab and encourage more women to wear it”, she remarked. Furthermore, “It’s illogical to say you want to liberate women by force or fines.

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I refuse to believe the politicians have women’s best interests in mind,” she said. Another supporter Meryem, born in Denmark to Turkish values and a student at Molecular Medicine, Aarhus University was heard saying, “I believe that you have to integrate yourself in society, that you should get an education and so forth. But I don’t think wearing a ‘niqab’ means you can’t engage yourself in Danish values.”

In Defense of Danish Laws

According to the Justice Minister of Denmark, Søren Pape Poulsen, “I see a discussion of what kind of society we should have with the roots and culture we have, that we don’t cover our face and eyes, we must be able to see each other and we must also be able to see each other’s facial expressions. It’s a value in Denmark”, he remarked.

First-time offenders face fines of 1,000 Danish kroner, around $150. Fake beards, balaclavas, and other face masks are also banned under the mandate of this new law.

Subsequently, he mentioned the role of police officers by stating that “it would be up to police officers to use their common sense when they see people violating the law, which comes into force on 1st August.” The Defenders of Danish law commented on this decision as an alleged ‘matter of public safety’. However, Human rights groups argue that this face-veil ban violates the rights of Danish citizens. Human Rights Watch has called a veil ban in Denmark, the “latest in a harmful trend.”

Similar arguments were presented by members of Amnesty International who expressed that while some restrictions on wearing face veils for the purpose of public safety may be legitimate, this ban was an extreme step at the hands of the law. It was “neither necessary nor proportionate and violates women’s rights to freedom of expression and religion.”

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According to Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director, Fotis Filippou, “All women should be free to dress as they please and to wear clothing that expresses their identity or beliefs.” And, “This ban will have a particularly negative impact on Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab or burqa”

Following in the footsteps of European countries; France, Belgium, Netherlands, Bulgaria, parts of Switzerland, etc., Denmark has indulged in the legislation of an act which showcases the indirect targeting of Muslim women.

Facts Versus Opinions

Danish researchers state that statistical analysis shows that only 200 women in Denmark are believed to wear the face veil. Out of the 5.731 million population of Denmark, the government and judiciary have chosen to take action against the 0.34 % of the population in an attempt to hide their discrimination against Muslim women, various analysts opine.

Many women gave their statements to media and expressed their distaste for this law. One such protestor Sabrina, 21 years old stated, “I’m not going to take my niqab off, but will try to continue my education.”

Many analysts state that shielding their own agendas behind excuses of Danish values, the Justice Minister openly condemned the act of wearing a veil but didn’t justify it. The alleged stance of protection of Danish values has negatively affected thousands of Danish women which feel targeted as a minority.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Belgium’s ban on the wearing of face veils in public, ruling that the country could be allowed to implement it in order to enhance people’s ability to “live together” pursuant to the “protection of rights of others.” Thus seeing this as an opportunity, Denmark too implemented a ban on the values of Muslim women.

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The only silver lining of this situation is the level of courage, unity, and strength portrayed by women and especially Muslim women against surrendering to the atrocities of the new legislation administered by Denmark.

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