Oddly Enough

Committee backs banning veil in public

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian parliamentary committee voted Wednesday to ban the full Islamic face veil, a move that, if ratified, could make Belgium the first country to enforce such a ban.

The lower house of parliament will vote on the bill on April 22 and it could enter into law in June or July.

Some lawmakers in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, have called for full Islamic veils to be banned, although a top advisory board said Tuesday that this would carry serious constitutional risks.

The draft law proposes to criminalize wearing clothing that covers all or part of the face, including the facial veil known as the niqab and the full outer garment, or burqa, widely worn in Afghanistan.

The French-speaking liberals, who have proposed the law, argue an inability to identify people who have hidden their faces presents a security risk and that the veil was a “walking prison” for women.

Daniel Bacquelaine, the bill’s chief promoter, said the ban might also be used against potentially violent demonstrators who covered their faces.

He estimated that a few hundred women in Belgium wore facial veils, adding that it was a rising trend.

“Five to fifteen years ago there were none,” he told Reuters. “Nothing in Islam, in the Koran in the Sunnah (sayings and practices of the Prophet Mohammad) imposes this form of dress. It seems to me it’s more a political or ideological sign.”

He added that Belgium did not wish to follow the “bad examples” of Britain and the Netherlands, where he said many Muslims lived in separate communities, favoring instead efforts to integrate society.

The bill received unanimous backing in parliament’s home affairs committee. It could lead to fines of 15-25 euros (about $20-$34) and imprisonment for up to seven days.

Bacquelaine said that local mayors could suspend the ban during festivities such as Carnival when people traditionally wear costumes, including masks.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton