GP Insights # 115, 3 August 2019
This week, the Netherlands introduced a new law that bans burqas, niqabs, and other face coverings in public places. The law called Partial Ban on Face-Covering Clothing Act, prohibits the wearing of ski masks, full-face helmets, balaclavas, niqabs and burqas in public buildings that include schools and hospitals and on public transport. The law is yet to be enforced, but it states that people not following the law will be given an option to remove the offending item, or they will be fined €150 to €415. The law is restricted only to the public buildings and transport but does not apply on the streets.
Both the police and transport workers have stated that the law will not be imposed strictly on their behalf. The police mentioned that the enforcement was discomforting as it will hinder a veiled woman from reaching out to the police station to make any complaints or for redressal of any problem. Motivated by this, transport companies have also stated that they will not enforce their staffs on trains, metros, trams or buses to impose this rule.
This has created confusion regarding the seriousness of this law. Regardless, this law has been criticised vehemently to be partial and also seen as a result of Islamophobia. The Dutch government has denied Islamophobia to be the basis of this law. The government insists that this was a security measure and will also ensure proper communication.
What is the background?
A far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders pushed this law and his party, make the intention of the imposition of this law, questionable. Mr Wilders is known for his anti-Islam view. He has openly revered the passing of this law and twitted that the "next step" should be to ban headscarves also and highlighted that, "If you want to wear a burqa, then go live in Saudi Arabia or Iran." Mr Wilders is not alone, both his party and several other lawmakers have openly supported this law.
But the Netherlands is not first to impose such ban six other European countries are prohibiting face-covering clothing in public buildings. France, under the presidentship of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, was the first to state that full-face veils were "not welcome". Apart from France and the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Latvia, Belgium and Bulgaria are among those who have imposed a similar ban.
What does it mean?
First, this law could be a broader indicator of growing intolerance towards a pluralist society. This has also impacted the shift in Europe's policy towards migrant, which has often been unwelcoming. Alongside this, similar discussions are in place in other parts of European such as Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, Italy, Lithuania and Norway. Parts of Spain have introduced such bans locally. It seems legal imposition of this ban became crucial for these countries since 2010, quite around the same time when the migration wave shifted towards Europe.
Second, the law could be hinting a shift in discourse towards Dutch nationalism under which anti-Islam remains a critical component.
Thirdly, the new law and drift in discourse could also imply the more significant shift from liberalism in Europe and other parts of the world. This is more evident through the rise of populist governments around the globe.