The Dutch cabinet has moved to prohibit women in public sector jobs from donning the most extreme Islamic-inspired garments — the niqab, which covers one's face except for the eyes, and the burqa, which covers the entirety of one's body and head:
The cabinet proposal to ban face-covering clothing for government functionaries in education and in public transport is supported by the Lower House. But the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Labour (PvdA) disagree over a ban in the health sector.
The CDA wants to extend the "burqa ban" to the health sector. "We do not want any face-covering in healthcare, certainly not among the personnel," according to MP Madeleine van Toorenburg.
PvdA MP Jeroen Dijsselbloem is unconvinced. "The healthcare sector has never been asked for its opinion," he tried. But CDA's healthcare minister Ab Klink told Van Toorenburg he would study her proposal.
Dijsselbloem was actually also against a ban in education. "Naturally we do not want any burqas in the classroom. But schools that want to do so can ban face-covering clothing themselves. I am afraid we are shooting a midge with a cannon," he said before backing the cabinet proposal anyway.
MP Geert Wilders, the producer of the anti-Koran film Fitna, has complained that these regulations would not go far enough; he hopes to one day see burqas outlawed everywhere in public. Other conservatives "want a general ban of face-covering clothing, including balaclavas and blacked-out motorbike helmets, because this would reduce the chances of legal objections to discrimination based on religion."
The cabinet backed such a ban in late 2006. However, the proposal lost steam after a new government came into power and it eventually collapsed under concerns that a broad prohibition would violate religious liberties. Still, the more limited legislation is a positive first step.
There are two primary reasons to proscribe face coverings in public. First, unidentifiable people present a security risk; second, niqabs and burqas promote segregation. Nor is it difficult to see how the student-teacher relationship — or any other that requires significant personal contact — could be inhibited by the artificial wall of the veil.
Hopefully the medical sector will take up van Toorenburg's suggestion and get on board as well. After all, doesn't it have a special mandate to help maintain the health of society?