Netherlands niqab ban comes into effect

30th Aug 2019
Netherlands niqab ban comes into effect

(Photo: Hans/Pixabay Commons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

A new law took effect in the Netherlands on August 1 banning face-covering clothes – including the niqab – on public transport and all government buildings such as libraries and hospitals and educational institutions.

The Netherlands is the latest European country to introduce such a ban, following the likes of France, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Denmark.

Muslim and rights groups have voiced opposition to the law – formally called the ‘Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act’. An Islamic political party in Rotterdam has said it will pay the 150-euro ($167) fines for anybody caught breaking it. It’s estimated that only at a few hundred in the country wear the niqab.

Far-right anti-Muslim lawmaker Geert Wilders welcomed the introduction of the limited ban as “historic day” and called for it to be expanded to include headscarves (hijab). “The next step to make it sure that the headscarf could be banned in the Netherlands as well,” Wilders said.

The Dutch Government has insisted that its partial ban doesn’t target any religion and that people are free to dress how they want.

A Government site explaining the new ban says, however, that ‘this freedom is limited at locations where communication is vital for good quality service or security in society.’

Interior Minister, Kajsa Ollongren, said the Government will evaluate the new law after three years – usually, such evaluations follow five years after a new law is implemented.

Pedro Peters, a spokesman for the RET transport network, said the law was unworkable. “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,” he said.

“This means that if a person wearing a burqa or a niqab is challenged trying to use a service, our staff will have no police backup to adjudicate on what they should do. It is not up to transport workers to impose the law and hand out fines.”

The National Federation of Academic Hospitals said in a statement that enforcement is up to police and prosecutors. It added: “We are not aware of any cases in which wearing face-covering clothing or a possible ban has led to problems’ in health care.”

The Dutch ban came into force eight years after France became the first European nation to ban the public use of full-face veils. A 2004 law also bans Muslim hijab headscarves and other prominent religious symbols from being worn in state schools but doesn’t apply in universities.

In neighbouring Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) are calling for a similar ban. Julia Klöckner, who leads the provincial Rhineland-Palatinate branch of the party, said Germany should enshrine a dress code for Muslim women to help protect their dignity.

“It’s not about a piece of fabric, but about the entire gender image that is expressed through it our Basic Law is totally clear men and women have equal value and equal rights,” Klöckner, also the Agriculture Minister in Merkel’s government, told the Passauer Neue Presse.

Though a ban would be constitutionally tricky, CDU colleagues joined Klöckner, who was once tipped as a potential successor to Merkel, in calling for a niqab ban. “It [the niqab] decidedly contradicts our values, and image of humans,” said Thorsten Frei, the Vice-Chair of the CDU’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag.

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