From The Telegraph U.K.
Belgium could be first country to ban the burka
Belgium is on course to become the first European country to ban the burka after a parliamentary committee backed proposals to make it illegal on the grounds of national security and women’s rights.
By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels
Published: 5:21PM BST 31 Mar 2010
The unanimous decision by senior home affairs legislators, with the support of Belgium’s main political parties, has paved the way for a full Belgian parliament vote on a ban to be held in three weeks.
The proposed legislation would ban any clothing or veils that do not allow the wearer to be properly identified, including the full-face niqab and burka that is worn by a small minority of Muslim women.
Those Muslims who ignore the ban could face fines of £22 and a jail sentence of up to seven days unless they have written police permission to wear the garments.
Denis Ducarme, a Belgian MP for the liberal Reformist Movement party that drafted the ban, predicted that legislation would receive full parliamentary backing on April 22.
“This is a very strong signal being sent to Islamists,” he said. “I am proud that Belgium would be the first country in Europe which dares to legislate on this sensitive matter.”
Daniel Bacquelaine, MR’s leader, said the proposed legislation would liberate Muslim women.
“Even if it’s on a voluntary basis, the burka is contrary to the dignity of women. It’s a walking prison,” he said. “We have to free women of this burden.”
But the Belgian ban is likely to face opposition and judicial challenges following Monday’s ruling by the French Council of State that a full burka ban in France was “unconstitutional”.
Fouad Lahssaini, a Green MP, warned that Belgian legislation was “judicially unsafe” because Belgium’s own Council of State, which acts as a supreme court, had not given its opinion on a ban.
“Speed is sometimes necessary in a democracy, but precipitous haste is the megaphone of populism,” he said.
Isabelle Praile, the vice president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium, warned that the ban would damage civil liberties.
“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 said.
The ban will be imposed on all streets, parks, sports grounds or buildings “meant for public use or to provide services”, with exceptions allowed for religious festivities if municipal authorities decide to grant them.
The ban comes amid controversy over the wearing of Muslim religious symbols in public places and as a high-profile trial of nine alleged al-Queda terrorists takes place in Brussels.
Belgium has been alarmed by the case of Malika El Aroud, a veiled Islamist radical and Belgian national, charged with leading the recruitment of young Brussels Muslims for suicide bombing missions. She was required to remove her burka in court when her trial opened earlier this month.
National debate has also raged over a protracted legal battle by Muslim mathematics teacher who demanded the right to wear a veil while teaching in her classroom.
She has been given until the middle of next week to return, unveiled, to her Charleroi school or to lose her job.