1st August 2019 saw the first partial ban on the burqa and niqab come into effect in the Netherlands. This was placed upon all women who wear the niqab or burqa, which includes prohibiting women from wearing clothing that covers their entire face. This law is applied within public places such as on public transport, within health and educational institutions and inside government buildings. Although the women are allowed to wear the burqa and niqab on public streets, if stopped by police and demanded to remove then they will be required to take it off. Refusal to do so may result in a fine up to 410 Euros.
The government describes its Dutch-law as “religion-neutral,” but this ban is specifically targeted at Muslim women. An estimate of 100 – 400 women are said to wear the niqab/burqa in the European country of 17 million people. So what is the necessity of this law? Targeted at such a small minority, it brings into question exactly what problem are the Dutch government attempting to solve? With the weak argument from Cabinet ministers of the burqa not fitting in with their “open society,” the Dutch parliament was actually the first European country to put forward the ban for the burqa. This idea was first proposed in 2005 by the Freedom Party far-right politician Geert Wilders who claimed this development as a “major victory.” It took almost 15 years for the law to pass, resulting in the Netherlands now being another European country to have placed the ban on religious clothing, the first two being France and Belgium. France was the first country to ban the full-face Islamic veil on 11th April 2011 where, under the ban, no women, French or foreign, is able to leave their own home with their face covered behind a veil without the risk of facing a fine. The controversial ban of “burkinis,” was then later imposed by French Riviera in 2016, where Prime Minister Manuel Valls called these swimsuits “the affirmation of political Islam in the public space.”
To a Muslim woman, the religious garment she wears is not simply just an item of clothing to cover her face, but a symbol of empowerment. Women wear this to hide and preserve their beauty, where some see it as a part of their own identity. By enforcing this ban, this not only strips a woman of her religious freedom, but also from freedom of movement. This affects both elderly women in their everyday lives, as well as the young in their education and participating in school sports and activities.
This partial ban is, in actuality, a complete ban. There are only a limited amount of public spaces still available to women to wear face-covering clothing, which is the streets and the private sector. But these, too, are limited. As mentioned above, if a female covering her face is requested to remove her niqab, she must oblige or fear receiving an extensive fine. And, naturally, within the private sector they can have their own procedures which could possibly (and most likely) legislate against women dressed specifically in a burqa/niqab. Bans like these will also affect women as they heighten the risk of Islamophobic hate crimes. This ban compromises the safety of these women as it opens the door for people to take the law into their own hands. With this law in place, this is seen as an opportunity for the public to act as “vigilantes.” This form of terror preinstalls a fear into these women and prohibits them from stepping out of their own homes. Activist Flavia Dzodan, has commented on the Dutch newspaper ADnl on its horrific suggestions on what to if they spot a face-covering women in the streets: “They suggest asking the person to leave, call the police or, alternatively, exercise the right to a citizen’s arrest.” Geert Wilders, who first proposed this ban, was of course in favour of this, with senator Marjolein Faber-Van de Klashorst referring to this as a “historical day as this is the first step to de-Islamise the Netherlands. This is the first and next step to close all the mosques.”
JAN Trust supports the rights of Muslim women and their own decision to wear the niqab and burqa. If they have the free will to do so, they should have the right to exercise it and express their religion in the way they choose. Read more of our blogs where we address similar issues in women having to fight for their rights.