Belgian vote on Muslim veils could echo in Europe

April 30, 2010
belgium niqab

Salma, a 22-year-old French woman living in Belgium who chose to wear the niqab after converting to Islam, speaks to Reuters television outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels April 26, 2010/Yves Herman

Belgium’s vote to ban full face veils in public is the furthest any European country has gone to confront a tiny minority whose choice in clothing has come to symbolise the issue of integrating some Muslim minorities.

The issue is being debated elsewhere in Europe, especially in France, and the example of two countries moving towards a ban has raised the stakes in a dispute pitting politicians and public opinion against Muslim leaders and human rights groups.

Full facial veils — known as niqabs or burqas — are extremely rare in Europe, but the number of women wearing them is rising. No exact figures exist, but estimates put the totals at about 2,000 in France and a few hundred in Belgium.

Bans are under debate in several other European states. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said this week a veil ban was “conceivable” there and his minister for women supported one in public buildings, banks, hospitals and offices.

Far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose political clout could grow in the Dutch general elections in June, advocates outlawing face veils there. Right-wing groups in Switzerland and Italy have also urged bans, but no action seems likely there soon.

Read the full analysis here. Here are links for our coverage of the Belgian vote and a factbox on policies on veils in several European countries.

UPDATE: Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the German vice-president of the European Parliament, has called for veils to be banned in the whole European Union.

What do you think of this trend? Should full face veils be banned? Or is this none of the state’s business?

Here is a Reuters TV video on the Belgian vote:

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