I’ve known about it all day, and almost didn’t blog about it, since news gets stale so quickly. Nevertheless, it seemed almost morally wrong not to applaud the Dutch for their recent moment of spine: they’ve banned the burqa.
The Dutch government agreed on Friday a total ban on the wearing of burqas and other Muslim face veils in public, justifying the move on security grounds.
Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk will now draw up legislation which will result in the Netherlands, once one of Europe’s most easy-going nations, imposing some of the continent’s toughest laws against concealing the face.
“The cabinet finds it undesirable that garments covering the face — including the burqa — should be worn in public in view of public order, (and) the security and protection of fellow citizens,” the Dutch Justice Ministry said in a statement.
The debate on face veils and whether they stymie Muslim integration has gathered momentum across Europe.
The Netherlands would be the first European state to impose a countrywide ban on Islamic face coverings, though other countries have already outlawed them in specific places.
The move by the center-right government comes just five days before a general election. The campaign has focused so far on issues like the economy rather than immigration because most mainstream parties have hardened their stances in recent years.
Last December Dutch lawmakers voted in favor of a proposal by far-right politician Geert Wilders to outlaw face-coverings and asked Verdonk to examine the feasibility of such a ban.
Because veils were worn for religious reasons, she had feared new legislation could come into conflict with religious freedom laws. But she said on Friday this was not the case.
And for those who decry this move as a blow against religious freedom, let me say a few things. First, the burqa isn’t necessarily a religious statement, but is more a cultural and political statement (as I’ve blogged about before). Second, in today’s world, where Muslim men are hiding their violent acts behind women’s burqas, the Dutch are right to view this as a safety matter. Third, where Muslim men are using unveiled women as an excuse for rape and other sexual assaults, having a law that removes burqas entirely from the female population should have an interesting effect on the dynamic behind that misogynistic excuse for rape.
Fourth, where religious practices impinge on public safety, all governments have deemed it permissible to act. A minor example is the prohibition against voodoo animal sacrifices in America. More major examples are kids in Christian Science communities who find themselves given medical care whether their parents like it or not. And I think there are few who regret today the British decision in 1829 to outlaw sati (aka suttee) the practice amongst some East Indians of coercing widows to burn themselves alive on their husband’s funeral pyres.
As Dennis Prager has said, we have to distinguish between religious morality and doctrine on the one hand, and ritual and tradition on the other. In a pluralistic society, the former has to be handled with significantly greater respect than the latter. So, again, huzzah! to the Dutch, who showed unforeseen bravery in tackling a distasteful, misogynistic and dangerous tradition that has the potential to undermine Western freedoms.