On July 13, members of the lower house of the French parliament are expected to vote on a bill that would make it illegal for Muslim women to wear full veils — those that cover all of the face except the eyes — in public places.
A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted April 7 to May 8, finds that the French public overwhelmingly endorses this measure; 82% approve of a ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public, including schools, hospitals and government offices, while just 17% disapprove.
Majorities in Germany (71%), Britain (62%) and Spain (59%) would also support a similar ban in their own countries. In contrast, most Americans would oppose such a measure; 65% say they would disapprove of a ban on Muslim women wearing full veils in public places compared with 28% who say they would approve.
In the four Western European countries surveyed as well as in the U.S., support for a ban on Muslim women wearing a full veil is more pronounced among those who are age 55 and older, although majorities across all age groups in France, Germany and Britain favor a ban.
Several European countries have been considering bans on such veils, with special attention on France, home to western Europe’s largest Muslim community and a strongly secular government.
The lower house of France’s parliament is expected to approve a divisive bill Tuesday that would make it illegal to wear full-face veils in public. The government says such veils oppress women. Only a very small minority of French Muslim women wear veils such as the niqab or burqa, and many French Muslims fear a ban would stigmatize the whole Islamic community.
The French government’s proposed veil ban is widely expected to become law after Tuesday’s lower house vote and a vote in the Senate in September.
The government has insisted that the bill is not about religion but has called it a way to promote equality between the sexes, to protect oppressed women or to ensure security in public places.
While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the “anti-burqa law,” it is officially called “the bill to forbid covering one’s face in public.” Part of the bill is aimed at husbands and fathers who impose such veils on female family members.
Citing security reasons, Belgium’s lower house has enacted a ban on the face-covering veil, though it must be ratified by the upper chamber. Calling them an affront to human dignity, Spain’s government has said it favors barring the use of burqas in government buildings.
Prohibiting a citizen from wearing religious garb—a yarmulke, a clerical collar, a Hare Krishna robe—would seem on the face of it to be a violation of religious freedom. And that is how Americans see it. Here only 28 percent approve of a ban on full veils, with 65 percent disapproving.
Proponents of the various burqa bans, however, cast themselves as defenders of the rights of women and even public safety. A fully veiled woman cannot be easily identified by police. Neither can a male drug dealer posing as a burqa-bound woman.
Religion News Blog is published in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and most of our team members make their home here.
We approve of a ban on full face veils for a number of reasons.
• For one, the vast majority of Muslims do not approve of this dress code, nor do they believe it to be required in the Quran.
• Many Islamic countries themselves ban the full face veil, in large part because it is associated with the more extreme and intolerant interpretations of Islam.
• Living among an ever-increasing population of, for the most part, Muslim immigrants we observe that burqas — as well as the slightly less severe niqabs — deminish the ability of the the women who wear such veils to to participate in normal, accepted forms of interaction between civilized people in the Western world. While some Muslim women may indeed choose such separation for themselves, in many cases the ‘choice’ is made by their husbands — or dictated by a Muslim community that already has trouble integrating into Dutch society.
• It is already prohibited to wear full face gear that significantly hinders the ability of others to identify the wearer.
• An inability and/or unwillingness to integrate into the society where one chooses to live — or the voluntary act of withdrawing from that society — is not healthy for said society and may play into the hands of Islamic extremists.
Finally, while we support freedom of religion — which Muslims in the Netherlands fully enjoy — not all religious practices have a place in a civilized, Westerns society. Islam law, for instance, includes many barbaric punishments considered to be human rights violations in most countries.