MPs in the Netherlands voted overwhelmingly (132 out of 150) for a partial ban on face veils from some public places. The ruling Liberal-Labour coalition is denying there is a religious motivation behind the law, claiming the bill is necessary for public safety and health.
The legislation approved by the lower house on November 29, must now go before the Senate for approval before becoming law. It follows similar bans imposed in France and Belgium and comes amid rising tensions in Europe with Muslim communities.
Anyone violating the law in schools, hospitals or public transport could incur a fine of €405 (£340), however, safety equipment such as helmets or full-face protection while working is excluded from the ban.
In an official statement, the Government commented that the law was needed owing to the “necessity to be able to interact face to face, for instance in places where public services are performed and safety must be guaranteed.”
“The Government sees no need to impose the ban on all public spaces,” it added.
Backing the ban is founder and leader of the controversial far-right anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV) Geert Wilders, who is leading opinion polls for March elections. Speaking in parliamentary debate fellow PVV politician Machiel de Graaf asked, “How do we even know there’s a woman under this Islamic textile? It might as well be a well-trained jihadist who completed his training in Raqqa of course,” he said.
According to the public newscaster, NOS, only about 150 women in the Netherlands wear the niqab.
MP Tunahan Kuzu, who vehemently fought against the draft legislation, said freedom of expression allowed people “to be who they are and dress how they want”.
“It is reprehensible to exclude these women and isolate them because of a subject anxiety among certain citizens,” he said.
Several women attended a parliamentary debate dressed in full veils. One of them, Karima Rahmani, argued that women who wore such garments were already required to produce ID themselves in certain public places.
“When we go to the town hall we have to identify ourselves, as well as at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where we have to remove it,” said Rahmani.
“The obligation to identify oneself is already provided for in the law.”
The Government’s advisory State Council body had said it believed issues around the niqab could be solved “without invoking legislation”.
“From time-to-time, there’s discussion about it… but it’s not really a big social problem,” it said in a letter published in 2015.
That view is shared by many Muslim women in the country. Speaking to The Muslim News 39-year-old housewife Oumaima Soufiane called the new legislation, “a highly politicized move…It is irrational to legislate integration. Are French Muslims now more integrated because of the ban, are the streets of Paris and Nice now safer?”
Maysoon Rami a teacher in Rotterdam told The Muslim News, “The number of women who wear the niqab is so minuscule it begs the question ‘what is the point?’ Muslim women are integrated fully functioning members of Dutch society.”
29-year-old MA student Nehir Akgün from Haarlem outside of Amsterdam was also baffled by the legislation but thinks the legislation is an attempt by mainstream politicians to jump on to the populist far-right politics bandwagon sweeping Europe and the United States.
“I don’t wear it [the niqab] and don’t know anyone who does. The passing of this law gives the illusion we have a niqab epidemic; this country has always been inclusive and embraced multiculturalism. The coalition Government wants to pacify the far-right so they introduce unwarranted laws,” she told The Muslim News.
France introduced a ban on women wearing the niqab in 2011, or risk a €150 fine, resulting in some 1500 arrests in the past five years. The European Court of Human Rights in 2014 backed the French ban, rejecting arguments that outlawing full-face veils breached religious freedom. Belgium and some parts of Switzerland have followed France’s lead and similar bans are being considered in other European countries. This summer some French towns also controversially banned ‘burkinis’, the full-body swimsuit.