Call it the fashion trend of the year. Westerners are sick and tired of burqas and niqabs — the face-covering veils worn by a minority of Muslim women — and they are not going to take it anymore. Most remarkable of all, many politicians appear to be listening. The result: an unprecedented legislative backlash against this uniform of radical Islam.
Efforts to enact bans, whether on the local or national level, are advancing across the West:
Canada. On March 24, Quebec's provincial government introduced a bill that requires uncovered faces not only for those who provide public services, but also for recipients. This includes everyone from students and hospital patients to lottery winners looking to claim a payout. The bill arrived on the heels of authorities booting a niqab-clad woman from a language class after her demands for accommodation became disruptive.
Belgium. On April 29, the lower house of parliament approved, 136-0, legislation that would make Belgium the first in Europe to institute a nationwide prohibition on face-concealing attire in public, with fines of €15-25 and up to seven days in jail for repeat offenders. If the upper house does not object, the law may be in force by July.
France. On May 11, lawmakers laid the groundwork for a similar ban by passing, 434-0, a nonbinding resolution that describes such clothing as "contrary to the values of the republic." Eight days later, the French cabinet finalized draft legislation proscribing face-covering attire in public spaces. The penalties are stiff: female violators are subject to a €150 fine; men convicted of forcing their wives to veil may be set back €15,000 and sentenced to one year in prison. Parliament will debate the bill this summer.
Italy. Citing a decades-old counterterrorism statute banning headgear that inhibits identification, several towns in northern Italy have begun imposing fines on women who hide their faces. Novara, which enacted its law in January, recently levied the first such fine (€500) after a woman refused to unveil herself for police.
Spain. On May 28, the town council of Lerida, in northeast Spain, became the first municipal authority in that nation to bar face-concealing women from public buildings.
Australia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are some of the other countries to witness proposals and debates regarding burqa bans in 2010.
Three comments: First, as with the Swiss prohibiting construction of new minarets last year, Westerners are striking out at the most visible — though not necessarily the most perilous — manifestations of Islam's growing influence. Second, one will note, however, that the veil issue is far more substantive than the minaret issue, because burqas and niqabs are both security risks and clear statements of radicalism and separatism. Third, will Americans be content to sit on the sidelines as battles rage over these controversies?
April 11, 2011, Update: France's burqa ban is now in force.
April 20, 2011, Update: A new IW blog post describes recent efforts to enact burqa bans.