The French National Assembly begins debating a complete ban on Muslim full face veils in public next week and could outlaw them by the autumn. Belgium’s lower house of parliament has passed a draft ban and could banish them from its streets in the coming months if its Senate agrees. The Spanish Senate has passed a motion to ban them after a few towns introduced their own prohibitions. (Photo: A veiled French woman outside the Belgian Parliament in Brussels/Yves Herman)
Calls to ban “burqas” — the word most widely in Europe used for full veils, even if most full veils seen are niqabs — have also been heard in the Netherlands and Denmark. According to a Financial Times poll, the ban proposal also “wins enthusiastic backing in the UK, Italy, Spain and Germany”.
Only a tiny minority of Muslim women in these countries actually cover their faces, but that doesn’t seem to matter. That Switzerland has only four minarets didn’t stop Swiss voters from banning them in a referendum last November (and maybe banning veils next). There seems to be a movement to ban religious symbols that Europeans either reject or fear.
Is this the best way for Europe to deal with the veil? Should governments just introduce ever tougher policies and Muslims counter with increasing opposition? Is there another approach that could offer a more harmonious outcome?
Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Venice, thinks there is. His beautiful city of canals and gondolas might not be the first one would think of when discussing Muslim integration in Europe, but his Oasis Foundation there has been working with Christians and Muslims in the Middle East since 2004. His extensive contacts in the region have led to some ideas he thinks could be relevant for Europe.