The Dutch ‘burqa ban’ collides with reality, and should make governments think again about policing dress

Let us not fool ourselves; without doubt, there are women who live in family units where they are forced to wear the veil. But controlling relationships are not just a Muslim issue

Rabina Khan
The Independent Voices

When I stood as an independent candidate in the Tower Hamlets’ mayoral elections of 2015, a white man asked me what colour my hair was under my veil. I said it was pink. He smiled, so then I added, “Not really, it’s green.” It was a small moment, but it got me thinking. I wrote an article – My Hair is Pink Under This Veil – and delivered a talk at Cambridge University.

Muslim women have endured all manner of law makers, politicians, and the public, giving them fashion tips. They think they’re trying to empower us. The former leader of the Commons, Jack Straw, claimed that community relations would be improved if they ditched the veil; former prime minister David Cameron commented that Muslim women were “traditionally submissive”.

Both white male politicians faced a backlash from the very Muslim women they thought they were liberating from enslavement.

In October 2018, the UN criticised France for violating women’s rights, stating that rather than protecting women with the country’s ban on clothing that concealed faces, its consequence would be to confine them to their homes and marginalise them.

And just two days ago, the Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, or burqa ban, came into force in the Netherlands. This law not only prohibits women from wearing face coverings such as burqas and niqabs on public transportation, in government buildings or at health and education institutions, but also outlaws anyone wearing full-face helmets, ski masks and balaclavas in the same places.

Muslim women wear a burqa as a symbol of their religious belief and religious freedom, in the same way that a Sikh would wear a turban. Veils (mantillas) are worn by some devout Catholic women in the UK and are a common sight in Spain and other Catholic countries in Europe.

The problem is that the burqa ban is unworkable.

Dutch police and transport companies have expressed a reluctance to enforce it. The police have stated that the ban is not a priority, so will not be able to respond within the usual half hour timeframe. The Dutch government now insists that the “partial ban doesn’t target any religion and that people are free to dress how they want”.

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A woman wearing a niqab in Rotterdam this week. There is no prohibition on wearing face-covering garments in the street. Photograph: Robin Utrecht/EPA



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