Human Rights Group Condemns European Burqa Bans

Posted on 1 May 2012


by Sam Taxy
April 30, 2012

Photo Credit: Antoine Taveneaux

A new report from Amnesty International, an influential human rights group, condemned European countries for denying Muslim women jobs and education by banning full-face veils or neglecting to enforce anti-discrimination laws. In addition to bans on the burqa (traditional Muslim robes that cover women’s faces and bodies) in France and Belgium, Amnesty alleged that other countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands were failing to take action against employers who discriminate against women wearing traditional religious dress. Schoolchildren have also been prevented from wearing religious or cultural clothing in the classroom. This report follows a long trend showing that these types of bans on religious clothing are deeply harmful to Muslim women.

“Women should be able to wear whatever they prefer…States have focused so much in recent years [on] the wearing of full-face veils as if this practice were the most widespread and compelling form of inequality that women have to face,” the report explained.

If anything, Amnesty International argued, France’s ban on full veils has only increased hostility toward Muslim women, rather than protecting them, which the legislation is (ostensibly) intended to do. Even those who choose to wear hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf that covers the hair but leaves the face exposed, rather than the full face veil, have reported higher levels of suspicion towards them since the ban went into effect.

The report encouraged European countries to avoid implementing bans on religious dress at colleges and universities. At the beginning of 2011, a similar ban implemented by Turkey, a secular country, quietly expired after many Muslim women simply chose to forgo higher education, rather than attending school without a headscarf.

According to the Amnesty International report, these laws, in addition to a widespread failure to enforce anti-discrimination laws against employers who will not hire women wearing Islamic ritual attire, represent a culture of anti-Muslim extremism that politicians choose to feed, rather than quench.

In this rhetorical and political war, burqa bans are not the only line of attack. Other European leaders like Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate who garnered 18% of the vote in the first round of the recent French election, have spoken out against halal butchery, the Muslim ritual slaughter of animals. The Dutch stirred controversy last year when several politicians proposed a law that would effectively ban halal and kosher (Jewish ritual) slaughter. There are also restrictions on Muslim places of worship. Minarets, for example, are banned in Switzerland.

As the report argues, Muslims in Europe do not constitute a homogenous group. But when certain forms of Muslim religious expression are illegal, it makes the entire religion seem foreign, rather than a part of European culture, further isolating all Muslim sects and thereby doing the opposite of what these restrictions are meant to do.