Dutch NGO Report Islamophobia: Law against face coverings has increased Islamophobia and must be repealed

DUTCH NGO RELEASES REVIEW EFFECTS OF THE ‘BURQA BAN’: LAW AGAINST FACE COVERINGS HAS INCREASED ISLAMOPHOBIA AND MUST BE REPEALED

‘Face-covering clothing is prohibited in education, care [services], public transport and government buildings. In the public area, the police can order the face-covering clothing [to be removed] for identification purposes. Those who wear these clothes do not meet the requirements for social assistance benefit.’

This is the main text underpinning the law on banning face-covering in the Netherlands. In 2005, the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, and (separately) the conservative liberal party, the VVD, proposed a full ban. In 2011 the government (then a coalition by the conservative liberal VVD and the Christian-Democrats CDA and supported by the Freedom Party), put forward a new proposal: a partial ban. After this government coalition collapsed, a new government (comprising the VVD and PvdA) was formed and, in 2013, a new proposal for a partial ban was submitted to Parliament.

In 2019 Dutch Parliament agreed to a partial ban on face coverings, but only for one group: Muslim women. Although the text of the law itself is neutral, the list of exceptions is not as it leaves only two possible groups who could be targeted by the ban: masked robbers, people with helmets in health care and education, and women wearing a face veil. The current government (VVD, progressive liberal D66, the christian-democrats CDA and orthodox Christian party Christian Union) defended the bill in the Senate. On 1 August 2019 the law came into effect. The bill officially intended to improve communication and security, but the effects seem to be the exact opposite.

The Dutch NGO Report Islamophobia has collected experiences with and stories about the ban during the past year. Today, on the European Actionday Against Islamophobia, Report Islamophobia releases a critical review of the effects of the law against face coverings (the “burqa ban” in popular Dutch parlance), which was introduced exactly one year ago. The partial ban prohibits face covering attire in government buildings, hospitals and public transportation. The review includes a collection of reports on everyday experiences with discrimination, submitted to Report Islamophobia in the course of the past year by women who wear the face veil. These reports demonstrate that the ban has not achieved the communication and security goals it was meant to serve.

In practice, the ban is used to justify discrimination as well as verbal and physical violence against muslim women. Report Islamophobia calls for the law to be repealed.

FROM THE LAW TO A CALL TO ARMS AND ‘BURQA-HUNTING’

In the wake of the introduction of the “burqa ban”, a mainstream Dutch newspaper editorial (in Algemeen Dagblad) claimed that citizens feeling “discomfited” when encountering a woman in violation of the law were now legally permitted to detain them — using force, if necessary — until law enforcement arrived on the scene. This invitation to street justice inspired a number of calls to organize “burqa hunts” on social media. Although no collective action was taken against veiled women, a strong uptick in verbal and physical violence against muslim women occured in the wake of the ban.

CONCLUSIONS OF THE REPORT

Three main conclusion emerge from data analysis by Report Islamophobia:

  1. Muslim women who wear the face veil and those who do not report that they have more frequently become a target of islamophobia since the introduction of the ban.
  2. Muslim women frequently experience discrimination in locations where the ban is not in force, such as in playgrounds, commercial establishments and on the street.
  3. Law enforcers are often unaware of the content of the law and cannot be relied upon by muslim women when it is wrongfully applied.

A particularly troublesome finding of the Report is that young children were present during roughly half of the islamophobic incidents recorded by Report Islamopbobia: they witnessed how their mother, who wears a face veil, was verbally or physically attacked.

So, in short, there is an increase in Islamophobia direct against women who wear the face veil and women without a face veil and also in places where the ban is not in force.

BURQA BAN IN PANDEMIC TIMES

Mandatory face masks in public transportation have further complicated the enforcement of the burqa ban and highlighted the particular ways in which muslim women are singled out for dress policing. Some women who wear the hijab, but not the face veil, have been told off in public transportation for wearing a face mask (in accordance with corona regulations). Initial statements from the government that restrictions on the face veil in public transportation would be loosened were later dialed back, creating further ambiguity that results in the targeting of muslim women. Face masks have not resulted in public discussions over inter-personal communication and public safety, suggesting that muslim women who wear the veil are singled out as a threat.

URGENT CALL

The institutions that are required to enforce the ban did not ask for the law on face coverings. The Council of State, Amnesty International and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights have issued harsh criticism of the ban. The review by Report Islamophobia demonstrates that the law has created problems where none existed. The introduction of the law was a symbolic gesture, intended to appeal to islamophobic sentiments. The review shows that mostly symbolic measures nonetheless have serious consequences in the everyday lives of muslim women. Report Islamophobia therefore calls on all political parties to take action to have this discriminatory law repealed.

Text is taken from the press release by Report Islamophobia. You can read the report (in Dutch) HERE. More information, can be found HERE.

A petition to get the law repealed, can be found HERE.

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