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Banning the burka is an accelerating trend

By Russell Grenning - posted Thursday, 14 June 2018


The Danish Parliament has voted, by an overwhelming vote of 75 to 30, to ban the Islamic burka (which covers the entire face) and the niqab (which covers the entire face except for the eyes). From 1 August, those caught flouting this law will be fined 1,000 Danish kroner (just under $AU200) while repeat offenders could be fined up to 10,000 kroner (just under $AU2,000) while anybody found to be requiring a person through force or threats could be fined or face up to two years in jail.

Demark is the seventh country in Europe to enact such a ban after France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria, Austria and Latvia. Bavaria in Germany, Catalonia in Spain, Lombardy in Italy, Stavropol in Russia and Ticino in Switzerland have regional bans while Norway has introduced a ban on wearing the veils in public schools.

Even Germany, seen to be the most tolerant of European countries to the influx of millions of Muslims has banned driving while wearing a face covering while there is a prohibition on anyone in the civil service, military or working as an electoral officer from covering their faces. Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has supported this legislation saying in 2016, "From my standpoint, a fully veiled woman scarcely has a chance of full integration in Germany."

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The Danish ban was first proposed by the Danish People's Party (DPP) in 2009 and a leading DPP MP, Martin Henriksen said after the vote, "Now that the ban has been approved, Parliament should, in the opinion of the Danish People's Party, continue to work on additional measures against the Islamisation of Denmark."

The Danish Justice Minister Soren Pape Poulsen commented, "To keep one's face hidden when meeting each other in public places is incompatible with the values in Danish society and disrespectful to the community. With a ban on covering the face we are drawing a line in the sand and underlining that in Denmark we show each other trust and respect by meeting face to face."

While Amnesty International described the law as a "discriminatory violation of women's rights", the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – perhaps surprisingly for some – has twice ruled that burka bans are legal.

In July 2017, the ECHR dismissed a protest against the Belgian ban on wearing the burka in public spaces saying that the Belgian Government had been responding "to a practice that is considered to be incompatible, in Belgian society, with social communication and more generally the establishment of human relations, which were indispensable for life in society … essential to ensure the functioning of a democratic society."

In July 2014, a French citizen of Pakistani origin challenged the French burka ban but lost when the ECHR accepted the French Government's argument that the ban encouraged citizens to "live together".

France became the first European country to ban Islamic veils in public in October, 2010 with the then Prime Minister Francois Fillon saying that the ban was aimed at "solemnly reaffirming the values of the republic" and that "concealing the face … places the people involved in a position of exclusion and inferiority incompatible with the principles of liberty, equality and human dignity affirmed by the French Republic." The then French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the burka was "a new form of enslavement that will not be welcome in the French Republic."

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In Canada, the French-speaking province of Quebec has barred people with face coverings from receiving public services or from working in government jobs meaning that it is illegal for them to ride on a public bus or railway, work as a doctor or teacher or receive publicly-funded health care while their faces are covered. China also has a ban in an area with a high Muslim population.

Banning the burka and the niqab are often – but deeply wrongly – seen as a manifestation of so-called Islamophobia in western countries. So, of course, if this reasoning is to be believed it follows that nations with a significant Muslim minority certainly wouldn't impose any ban be that refusal on the grounds of religious freedom, civil rights or political reality or all three. And, naturally, this reasoning would conclude that majority Muslim nations wouldn't have a bar of any such ban. They would see any ban as deeply insulting, provocative and unnecessary, wouldn't they?

Well, not all actually.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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