The town of Reus in the Catalan province of Tarragona has become the first in Spain to ban the wearing of full-face veils in public, a move which follows a judgment on July 1 by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which found that a French law banning the wearing of the veil did not breach the Convention on Human Rights.
The Strasbourg judges said the French ban was justified because of respect for life in society: “The barrier raised against others by a veil concealing the face in public could undermine the notion of ‘living together,'” the judges said.
France was the first country in Europe to ban the veil. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration brought in the ban in 2011, said that veils oppress women and were “not welcome” in France.
Now Reus has passed bylaws to ban the veil. Ramon Espadaler, Interior Minister for Catalonia, has said that the ban, first proposed in 2013, was in no way an attack on religious freedom as the wearing of helmets and masks in public will also be forbidden.
While other towns in Spain have banned the veil in publicly-owned buildings, Reus is the first of the ban garments such as the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes, and the burqa, a full-length enveloping garment which includes a cloth grid across the face, on the streets.
According to El Pais, the coalition local government, made up of conservatives and Catalan nationalists, who want Catalonia to break away from Madrid and become an independent state, amended their own legislation to remove the words “niqab” and “burqa.” They replaced them with clothing “of any type or form or accessories that impede identification or make it more difficult.”
The local government called for the prohibition based on criteria of “security” and “coexistence.”
However, police will be unable to impose fines for breaching the ban until there is what one local councillor called “superior legislation.”
Belgium already has a ban on full-face veils, and it is likely that attempts will now be made in other countries including Austria, Norway and Denmark after the ECHR decision.
Earlier this month, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) announced they would introduce a bill banning full-face veils. Heinz-Christian Strache, FPÖ leader and member of parliament, posted on a social network an image of a young blonde woman with the caption, “Too beautiful for a veil.”
According to Strache, the image is “against the Islamisation of Europe.” Party spokeswoman Carmen Gartelgruber said: “One of the many tools of oppression is the burqa.” Other parties in Austria do not support the ban, however.
A right-wing party in Denmark will introduce legislation for a French style ban. Pia Kjærsgaard, a spokesperson for the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF) which sits with the British Conservatives in the European Parliament, thinks a ban on face-covering dress, whether it is specifically targeting Islamic burqas or not, should be introduced in Denmark: “We can’t have women being completely covered so you can’t see their facial expressions or who you have right in front of you.”
The DF proposed a burqa ban in 2004 and 2009 but both times it was defeated.
In Norway, which is not a member of the European Union but is one of the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe whose court is the ECHR, Labour and Progress parties have stated that they would consider revisiting the issue of a Muslim veil ban.
Jan Bøhler of the Labour Party said: “When parliament rejected such a ban in 2013, the main argument was that Norway risked being censured in the ECHR. Now that argument falls away. I think we need to take a new discussion about a possible ban.”
In Germany, there is no law restricting the wearing of veils, but according to the BBC, in September 2003 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school. However, the court said states could change their laws locally if they wanted to.
In Britain, there is no ban on wearing a veil, but schools can decide their own dress code, but following the ECHR judgement, Tory MP Philip Hollobone urged the Government to ban the veil in Britain: “We will never have a fully functioning, fully integrated multi-cultural society if growing numbers of our citizens go around with their faces covered.”