Troubled Europe debates burqas, niqabs and Burkinis

World Thursday 25/August/2016 12:39 PM
By: Times News Service
Troubled Europe debates burqas, niqabs and Burkinis

Berlin: Restrictions on face and full-body veils are back in the spotlight in parts of Europe after some French cities banned the Burkini swimsuit, saying the garment, which leaves only the face, hands and feet exposed, defies laws on secularism.
A spate of attacks against civilians claimed by militant group Islamic State, notably in Belgium, France and Germany, has sharpened the debate, with a large influx of mainly Muslim migrants to the continent also giving rise to resentment among some Europeans.
Here are details on where the full-body burqa and Burkini, and the niqab face veil, are banned and where bans are under discussion.
Austrian conservative politicians have called for a ban on full body veils, saying they prevent women who wear them from integrating given it is a mainly Catholic country. Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has said he would expect a full ban to be problematic in terms of constitutional law.
A spokesman for Austria's Supreme Court of Justice said there was no law banning face-coverings.
But that court recently heard a case in which an employer in a notary office fired his Muslim employee for wearing a face veil, saying it inhibited her interaction with clients. She sued on equality grounds but the court agreed with the employer, saying a face veil impacted her ability to do her job.
A Sports Ministry spokesman said he was not aware of any countrywide rule regarding Burkinis in public swimming pools and pools had the right to make their own decisions.
Belgium banned the niqab - which covers the hair and face except for the eyes - and the burqa in 2011 and 60 women have since been prosecuted for wearing them.
It is forbidden to wear the Burkini in many municipal swimming pools, but not at the beach.
The N-VA, the Flemish centre-right party, is calling for a general ban on the Burkini. The MR, the French-speaking Liberal Party, says it is ready to start debating that too.
"If you allow (the wearing of Burkinis), you'll put these women on the sidelines of society," N-VA deputy Nadia Sminate told newspaper De Standaard.
Czech Republic
There is no general ban on burqas or the Burkini in the Czech Republic.
In 2013 a school in Prague banned two girls from wearing the hijab. This year one of the two students filed a court complaint against the school, demanding an apology. There has been no verdict yet.
Also in 2013, some parents protested against a teacher wearing the hijab in a kindergarten in a town in the south of the country. She was not forced to step down because other parents and local authorities supported her.
In 2010 France became the first European country to ban the burqa and niqab in public. In 2014 the European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban but said the law could appear excessive and encourage stereotyping.
The Burkini has been banned by more than a dozen municipal authorities, primarily in the south east between Nice and Marseille where there is a strong Muslim population.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the Marseille-based La Provence newspaper on Aug. 17 that beaches and other public spaces needed to be protected from religious expression, saying the Burkini was a sign of the subjugation of woman.
"There is an idea that women, by nature ... are impure and should be covered up. That is not compatible with the values of France and the Republic. Confronted by such provocations, the Republic must defend itself," he was quoted as saying.
On Aug 25 the country's highest administrative court will begin hearing a request by the French campaign group League of Human Rights for the Burkini ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet to be overturned.
The campaign group's appeal had previously been dismissed at a lower court. In its ruling, that court said that the Burkini ban was "necessary and measured" in the context of the Nice Bastille Day attack and the murder of a Catholic priest by Islamist militants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives want a partial ban on the face veil but their junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), opposes that idea.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has said that the face veil has no place in Germany but suggested it would be hard to ban it nationally.
Conservative regional interior ministers want women to be forced to show their face while driving, when registering with authorities, at passport controls and at demonstrations. They also want the full veil banned at schools, universities, in the civil service and at court for judges and witnesses.
Merkel has said that women wearing a complete veil have "hardly any chance of integrating".
A German court ruled on Aug. 22 that a Muslim woman could not wear a niqab to evening school.
The region of Lombardy in northern Italy banned the burqa at hospitals and public offices belonging to the regional government as of Jan 1, 2016.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano has that Italy will not follow the example of some French towns in banning Burkinis, saying such a curb could be counter-productive.
A ban on burqas has been debated in the Netherlands for a decade but always foundered on practical or constitutional objections.
In 2015 a ban eschewing religious language was imposed on "face-covering clothing" in certain situations. These include at school and in places where it is deemed necessary to see somebody's face or identify them for safety reasons: at airports, in courtrooms, on public transport and at entrances to public buildings.
Those situations do not include the street or beach. The ban also applies to other face-covering clothing, such as motorcycle helmets.
In 2010 the council of the northeastern city of Lleida banned the use of the burqa and other face-coverings that "make identification and communication difficult" in municipal buildings.
Other Spanish cities, mostly in the northeastern region of Catalonia, imposed similar bans.
The bans were overturned in 2013 by Spain's Supreme Court, which said town halls did not have the authority to impose them.
There has been little public discussion about a possible nationwide ban in Spain, where very few women wear the full veil.
In Switzerland, a group that spearheaded a successful initiative to block construction of new minarets in Switzerland 2009 is pressing ahead on a measure to put a burqa ban before national voters.
One canton, Italian-speaking Tessin in the south, passed a burqa ban in 2013 that went into effect earlier this summer. Those who violate the ban could face fines.
A politician from the left-leaning Social Democrats in Zurich, Mario Fehr, said this month he also favoured a law banning the burqa as people in a liberal society should be required to show their faces.
Fehr has been criticized by members of his own party for his comments, according to Swiss media.