Dutch Cabinet pushes for burqa ban

Security precaution, or veiled attempt at enforcing cultural assimilation?


Tracy Clark-Flory
November 21, 2006 1:00AM (UTC)

Just days before the Dutch national elections came this interesting political maneuver: Officials announced plans to draft legislation to ban the burqa, as well as all other full-face coverings, in the country. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk announced the legislation Friday, saying the burqa hinders communication (sounds familiar) and is a threat to public security.

The Netherlands has idled at a critical cultural crossroads since the 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist. The burqa legislation is more honestly a response to increasing European concern over Muslim immigration and assimilation. Certainly, security concerns exist; Verdonk says "the Cabinet finds it undesirable that face-covering clothing -- including the burqa -- is worn in public places for reasons of public order, security and protection of citizens," and this argument is supported by the recent case of a British terror suspect who evaded arrest for days by donning a burqa.

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But how effectively can a country legislate public recognizability? Face coverings of all sorts would be banned by the legislation, including ski masks. What's next, then -- a ban on oversized sunglasses, identity-warping wigs or Unabomber hoodies? Some people use these to avoid being recognized, too. What about cross-dressing? Is there an exception for costumes? The ridiculous questions this half-baked legislation gives rise to are endless.

Not to mention that, as a spokesperson for Dutch Muslim organization CMO observed, the legislation is a "big law for a small problem." Indeed, it's estimated that there are roughly 1 million Muslims in the Netherlands and only about 50 to 100 are believed to wear the burqa, according to members of the Muslim community. "What the government is doing now is totally disproportionate to the number of women who actually wear the burqa," said CMO chair Ayhan Tonca.

It's easy enough to jump down the rabbit hole of law and privacy rights without even mentioning the burqa. But when it comes to the face-obscuring veil, let's be honest about what we're actually talking about: It's cultural, not public, security.


Tracy Clark-Flory

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