BERLIN — A growing movement in Europe to ban burqas and niqabs, the face coverings worn by some Muslim women, is igniting a debate over individual religious freedom vs. broader cultural values.
The movement started in Belgium when a bill making it a crime to wear a face veil in public passed unanimously in the lower house of parliament in April. The penalty would be a $19-$31 fine or a week in jail. The measure is likely to become law by fall, says Denis Ducarme, co-author of the legislation.
France followed and lawmakers across the continent are considering similar measures.
Belgium already has a law that forbids wearing masks in public, but lawmakers said they wanted to enhance the security of the country, promote gender equality and send a signal to extremists.
“Above all, this law was based around the question of security,” Ducarme says. “We think that it is important that all people must be able to be identified when in public. But we are also concerned over women forced to wear (a burqa or niqab). If the state doesn’t say ‘stop,’ the few wearing them today might be 2,000 in 10 years.”