BRUSSELS — In a reflection of growing anxiety in Europe over the use of Islamic symbols, a committee of Belgian lawmakers voted Wednesday to ban the wearing of burqas in public, paving the way for the first clampdown of its kind on the Continent.
The proposal, which will be put to the full Parliament after the Easter break, highlights the political sensitivity of Islamic dress for European politicians grappling with the challenges of integrating its expanding Muslim population.
It came in the midst of debates in France and the Netherlands over the wearing of head scarves or veils, and followed a referendum vote in Switzerland against building minarets.
Analysts noted that in Belgium, where the sight of women wearing burqas is relatively rare, the measure would have a limited practical impact, though it could prove politically symbolic.
“This is a very strong signal that is being sent to Islamists,” the French-speaking liberal deputy Denis Ducarme said, adding that he was “proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter.”
The bill could mean a ban being imposed on wearing burqas, or full-length garments that prevent women being identified, in streets, public gardens and sports grounds or buildings “meant for public use.”
Exceptions would be possible for some festivities if the municipal authorities decide to grant them, and those breaking the law could face small fines or imprisonment for between one and seven days.
The unanimity with which the measure was approved by the home affairs committee suggests strong cross-party support when the measure is discussed by the full Parliament of Belgium, a predominantly Roman Catholic country.
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