There has been an angry reaction to the Belgian parliament’s approval of a ban on the Islamic burqa in public places.
Although it still has to be ratified by the Senate before becoming law, critics say it is more to do with prejudice than protecting human rights.
David Nichols is Executive Officer for Amnesty International;
“It severely curtails individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion. It sets a very dangerous precedent for other European countries now.”
Supporters of the proposed ban say it is necessary for security reasons to allow police to identify people and they argue that the burqa is a symbol of the oppression of women.
“We of course support freedom of religion and freedom to practice but I think that the burqa is not a religious sign, it’s a political sign,” said the ban’s proposer, Liberal MP Daniel Bacquelaine.
Out of a Muslim population of around half a million
it has been estimated barely 100 women in Belgium use the fully-veiled Niquab. Many people believe the ban is disproportionate.
“If you are not a threat to anyone there is nothing wrong in showing who you are, what you are and being accepted. It’s a multi-cultural society we are living in and we should respect each other’s religion and culture,” said one woman.
However the current political vacuum and possible elections mean it will be several months before fines and prison sentences can be handed out to women who wear the Islamic garb, assuming the Senate will follow parliament’s lead. Until then the debate will continue to rage.