Belgian politicians take first key step to ban the burqa
A Belgian parliamentary committee voted Wednesday to impose a nationwide ban on wearing the Islamic burqa in public. FRANCE 24 examines the issues surrounding this controversial ban.
A top Belgian parliamentary committed voted unanimously Wednesday to impose a nationwide ban on wearing the burqa - or all-enveloping Islamic garment for women - in public. The vote paves the way for the first clampdown of the garment of its kind in Europe.
The vote came a day after a top legal body in neighbouring France warned the French government that a nationwide ban on the burqa would be vulnerable to legal challenges.
Following Wednesday’s approval of a burqa ban by the Belgium parliament's home affairs committee, a draft law will be put before a full house vote – possibly toward the end of April.
FRANCE 24 spoke to Felice Dassetto, a sociologist and president of the
Belgium-based CISCOW (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the contemporary World), for the inside track on this thorny issue.
FRANCE24: What has been the reaction in Belgium to this issue so far?
Felice Dassetto: Pretty good. It should be noted that this ban will affect the niqab [Islamic veil only revealing the eyes] and the burqa and it will be a nationwide ban, thereby, a measure that will apply to all of Belgium. We have not had a debate or committee established to examine the issue, which has helped in the decision making process. Moreover, the Muslim community in Belgium has not really commented on this subject, except for small groups. So there has been no real outcry against the proposed ban.
There already exists a Belgian law dating from the nineteenth century that prohibits covering the face in public. Opponents of the burqa and the niqab have relied on it to defend their position. Moreover, in many regions within Belgium, wearing the full veil in public is prohibited by police regulations. Here, the real issue the idea that the ban with now be nationwide.
F24: How do you explain the disinterest of Belgian Muslims and the population as a whole on this issue?
Felice Dassetto: In the first place, only very few Muslim women in Belgium use the niqab or burqa. This minority usually belong to the minority Salafiist community. Secondly, the Muslim community and the general population are instead focused on the issue of headscarves in schools. That’s the real debate in this country. On this issue, Muslim groups are really exerting pressure. About 50% of Muslim children are enrolled in private schools which are more flexible on the issue of headscarves. The other half go to state/public schools. A significant number of schools have elected to ban headscarves. In recent years, the Muslim community have been demanding the right to wear headscarves in state schools.
F24: Can we compare the situations in Belgium and France?
Felice Dassetto: They are not really comparable, given the fact that there is no real debate on the burqa or niqab in Belgium. The only common point is perhaps the fact that non-Muslims in France, as in Belgium, are mostly opposed to wearing the burqa and niqab. But there has not been much debate on the issue in Belgium as there is in France. There was a sort of implicit "deal" between Belgian political leaders and the Muslim community. The latter hopes that by letting the law banning the burqa go through, the government will be inclined to be more flexible on the issue of headscarves in schools.