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The Netherlands bans the burka

The Netherlands bans the burka

On the January 27th, the Dutch government took a large step towards becoming the third European country to ban clothing that covers the face, after France and Belgium. Such clothing includes the burka, niqab, forage cap, and the full face helmet. According to the proposed legislation, anyone who wears such items in public risks being fined up to 380 euros.

Minister of Interior Affairs, Liesbeth Spies, argued that covering the face is not compatible with Dutch culture and liberal traditions: "It is very important that people in an open society meet each other in an open way. People should be able to look at each other's faces and recognise each other when they meet." The Dutch government believes that people need to be able to look each other in the eye and work together with recognisable faces. There is also a suspicion that women are forced to wear face-covering burkas or niqabs in public by conservative Islamic males; thus the ban is aimed at securing gender equality and women’s social rights.

Those who oppose the ban however, argue that it undermines Holland's liberal tolerance by restricting religious and personal freedoms of choice. Professor of Islam at the contemporary West at Leiden University, Maurits Berger, remarked that the move was targeting Muslims to secure political popularity. He said that there are "only a few hundred women" in the Netherlands who wear veils, and condemned the ban as a "highly symbolic" statement.

It should be noted however that the ban does not apply to face coverings that are necessary for health and safety, or the practice of an occupation or sport. Exceptions to the ban can be allowed during events such as Sinterklaas, Carnival and Halloween, with mayors given prior authority to lift the ban. The ban also does not apply to places and buildings that are intended for religious use, on aircraft, or to passengers who pass through Dutch airports in transit to their final destination.

Freedom is a contentious subject. The Dutch public have largely welcomed the move to ensure that their "open society" is maintained, but there are critics who strongly disagree, and protest that it will achieve exactly the opposite.

James Shaw

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James Shaw

James is an assistant editor at IamExpat, and is the newest member of the team. Interests include travelling, parties, and his beloved Manchester United. From Manchester, UK, but now living...

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