The TimesOctober 13, 2005

Dutch unveil the toughest face in Europe with a ban on the burka
From Anthony Browne in Brussels

The 'time of cosy tea-drinking' with Muslims is over, says the minister who
would ban the burka (ROBERT VOS/EPA)

THE Netherlands is likely to become the first country in Europe to ban the
burka, under government proposals that would bring in some of the toughest
curbs on Muslim clothing in the world.
The country's hardline Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk, known as the Iron
Lady for her series of tough anti-immigration measures, told Parliament that
she was going to investigate where and when the burka should be banned. The
burka, traditional clothing in some Islamic societies, covers a woman's face
and body, leaving only a strip of gauze for the eyes.
Mrs Verdonk gave warning that the "time of cosy tea-drinking" with Muslim
groups had passed and that natives and immigrants should have the courage to
be critical of each other. She recently cancelled a meeting with Muslim
leaders who refused to shake her hand because she was a woman.
The proposals are likely to win the support of Parliament because of the
expected backing by right-wing parties. But they have caused outrage among
Muslim and human rights groups, who say that the Government is pandering to
the far Right.
Mrs Verdonk admitted that a complete ban on the garment would be legally
tricky because of freedom of religion legislation. However, she said that
she would prohibit the garments "in specific situations" on grounds of
public safety. The ban is likely to be enforced in shops, public buildings,
cinemas, train and bus stations and airports, as well as on trains and
buses.
The Netherlands has become preoccupied by Islamic terrorism after the
investigation into the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh uncovered a
network of Muslim extremists dedicated to destroying the country. Attention
has turned to the burka because police authorities have become concerned
that a terrorist could use one for concealment.
A government spokesman said: "We want to investigate when, how, in which
places the burka should be banned. It is a safety measure - you don't see
who is in it." The Government cites as a precedent existing football
legislation, which bans people from entering football grounds covering their
faces in scarves.
Yassim Hertog, a vice-president of the Muslim School Boards Union, said:
"Can you prohibit someone from wearing a certain type of dress? They are
trying to test what a government can forbid, and how far you can go
trampling on people's rights. They want to show all these Dutch citizens who
are sick and tired of all these 'mutant' citizens, this is where we draw the
line - get normal."
Muslim groups insist that only a few dozen women in the Netherlands wear the
burka, and that the ban is a distraction. The Muslims and Government Contact
Body said: "Only a handful of Muslims actually wear burkas. Let us focus our
energy on what we have in common. This is not a big problem."
Last year two Muslim women lost a court case against their college that had
banned them from wearing burkas during their social work and childcare
course. The judge backed the college in its claim that children had to be
able to see who was caring for them, prompting the women to drop the course.
Famile Arslan, the women's lawyer, told The Times:
"Women have a very strong opinion about the burka. If you ban it they won't
leave the house. It is not a good way to integrate and emancipate Muslim
women. Everything Muslims do is criticised by Verdonk. She is doing it to
get votes. She doesn't care about Muslims and their problems."
Mrs Verdonk made the proposals after Geert Wilders, the right-wing MP,
requested the ban. Mr Wilders claimed that the garment was unfriendly
towards women and a threat to security.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, on the European Parliament's Civil Liberties
Committee, who has been active in opposing bans on the hijab, or scarf, said
that there were no arguments for banning the burka. "If there is a genuine
belief that someone under a burka is a terrorist, then you invoke
stop-and-search laws on the grounds of reasonable suspicion."
The Netherlands would become the first European country to ban the wearing
of the burka in public situations, although there are already some local
bans. Last year several Belgian towns, including Antwerp and Ghent, banned
the wearing of the burka in public, and recently started issuing 100 spot
fines for breaking the municipal ordinance. Several towns in Italy,
including Como, have invoked legislation introduced by Mussolini that bans
hiding one's face in public to impose fines on burka-wearers. France and
several regions of Germany have followed Turkey and Tunisia in banning the
wearing of the hijab, which leaves the face visible, in public buildings,
most controversially in schools.
The French ban applies only inside government-owned buildings and was
imposed to preserve the secular nature of the state.
SHIFT TO THE RIGHT
How the Netherlands has become less liberal:
Immigrants must pass an exam on Dutch language and culture before being
allowed to move to the Netherlands. That does not apply to immigrants from
US, Canada, Australia, Japan and other EU states.
Legal immigrants already there must take a Dutch language course at their
own expense.
Immigrants guilty of any minor crime, such as shoplifting, during their
first three years in the country can be deported.
People can bring in a husband or wife only once they are 24 years old, and
do not depend on welfare benefits. The measures are aimed at curbing
international arranged marriages.
26,000 illegal immigrants are being deported, some of whom have been in the
country for ten years and have established families.
Clampdown on foreign imams working in mosques. They must show their
appreciation of Dutch values.
Increase in sentences for a range of crimes, and introduction of "zero
tolerance" policing to cities such as Rotterdam.

Tightening of rules on cannabis-selling coffee-shops and zero-tolerance
approach to infringements.
About half the coffee shops in Amsterdam have
closed.
The Netherlands is still liberal in some ways, however. In 2001, the country
became the first in the world to legalise gay marriages. The Netherlands
still has liberal rules on euthanasia, recently extending it to severely
handicapped babies and children.