A top Belgian parliamentary committee 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 home affairs committee voted unanimously to endorse the move, which must be approved by parliament for it to become law. Such a vote could be held within weeks, correspondents say, meaning that Belgium could become the first European country to implement a ban.
France is also considering restricting face-covering veils. There are several types of headscarves and veils for Muslim women – those that cover the face being the niqab and the burka.
Several districts of Belgium have already banned the burka in public places under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time.
The wording of the draft law approved by the parliamentary committee says the ban would apply to areas accessible to the public – which would include people walking in the street or using public transport – and would be enforced by fines or even prison.
Denis Ducarme, from the Belgian centre-right Reformist Movement that proposed the bill, said he was “proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter”.
A colleague, Corinne De Parmentier, said: “We have to free women of this burden.” But the proposal has alarmed some who see it as an attack on civil liberties.
Isabelle Praile, the vice-president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, said any law could set a dangerous precedent. “Today it’s the full-face veil, tomorrow the veil, the day after it will be Sikh turbans and then perhaps it will be mini-skirts,” she was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.(NO, hopefully tomorrow will bring a ban on all Muslims) BBC