AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch minority government plans to ban Muslim face veils such as burqas and other forms of clothing that cover the face from next year.
The ban would make the Netherlands, where 1 million out of 17 million people are Muslim, the second European Union country to ban the burqa after France, and would apply to face-covering veils if they were worn in public.
“People should be able to look at each other’s faces and recognize each other when they meet,” the interior affairs ministry said in a statement Friday.
The ban will also apply to balaclavas and motorcycle helmets when worn in inappropriate places, such as inside a store, Deputy Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters, denying that this was a ban on religious clothing.
Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV), which helps give the Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition a majority in parliament, has set considerable political store on getting the so-called burqa ban passed into law.
Few Muslim women in the Netherlands wear the Arabic-style niqabs which leave the eyes uncovered and Afghan-style burqas that cover the face with a cloth grid. Academics estimate the numbers at between 100 and 400, whereas Muslim headscarves which leave the face exposed are far more common.
The coalition has agreed to submit a new law to parliament next week stipulating that offenders would be fined up to 390 euros ($510), the ministry said.
Verhagen said the ban was intended to ensure that a tradition of open communication cherished in Dutch society was upheld, and to prevent people from concealing their identity in order to do harm.
Wilders, who condemned Dutch Queen Beatrix for covering her hair with a scarf on a recent royal visit to the Middle East, said on Twitter: “Great news: burqa ban will finally come to the Netherlands! Proposal approved by ministers’ council. Excellent!”
Maurits Berger, professor of Islam in the contemporary West at Leiden University, said only a few hundred women wear the full face veil in the Netherlands.
“This is highly symbolic, it’s part of the deal made with PVV,” Berger said. “We are in the middle of a crisis. There are worse things to tackle.”
The minority coalition is at odds with the Freedom Party over where to make further budget cuts, and the scale of the cuts needed.
The face-veil law, which still needs to win approval in both houses of parliament, excludes clothing worn for security reasons such as that worn by firemen and hockey players, as well as party clothing such as Santa Claus or Halloween costumes.
The ban does not apply to religious places, such as churches and mosques, nor to passengers on airplanes or en route via a Dutch airport, the interior ministry said. ($1 = 0.7615 euros)
Reporting by Gilbert Kreijger; Editing by Robert Woodward