MADRID €” In a significant escalation of Spain’s debate over how to handle radical Islam, the Senate on Wednesday narrowly and unexpectedly approved a motion to ban Muslim women from wearing in public the burqa or other garments that cover the whole body.
The vote, 131 to 129, was another setback for the Socialist government of Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero, which had favored more-limited restrictions on Islamic clothing and has instead been pushing to curtail religious fundamentalism through better education.
The Spanish vote comes amid several national initiatives across Europe to restrict the spread of radical Islam and defend liberal values.
In Belgium, the lower house of Parliament has already approved a measure that, if unamended by the upper house, would make it a crime to wear in public “clothing that hides the face.”
France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, has also been inching toward such a ban on the burqa. The measure has the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently condemned the garment as “a sign of subservience” rather than one of religion.
In Switzerland last year, a referendum banned the construction of minarets.
While national politicians may be urging a clampdown on the burqa, such moves are still expected to run into legal obstacles.
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