By Lyndsey Cole
Amid growing hostility toward Muslims throughout the Europe, the Bulgarian parliament passed legislation on September 30 banning face veils from most public locations, including schools and administrative offices. According to Al Jazeera, people who do not comply with the ban may have to pay fines of up to 1,500 levs, or 858 USD.
Approximately 13 percent of the Bulgarian population is Muslim. The MDL Turkish minority party has opposed the ban and accused supporters of “sowing religious intolerance.” Supporters of the ban, including the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, hold that the law is not a means of religious intolerance but rather is a way of increasing national security, as many Syrian refugees also pass through the country on their way to other areas of Europe.
Bulgaria is not the first European country to impose a ban on face coverings or burqas, and it is unlikely to be the last. In Switzerland, new draft legislation proposed by the Swiss People’s Party has passed, attempting to ban face-concealing garments from public areas. According to Independent, similar legislation failed to pass in January. Regions of Switzerland such as the canton of Ticino, however, have already imposed bans.
France and Belgium have imposed nationwide bans of face veils in the hopes of increasing national security. As RT News reported, several regions of Italy have imposed bans since the beginning of 2016, including Venice and the northern area of Lombardy.
This sentiment continues to echo throughout Europe, with Newsweek reporting that a majority of Germans support a prohibition of face-concealing garments. Infratest dimap, a German political research firm, recently conducted a poll which found that 81 percent of Germans backed a partial ban on the burqa. While the government does not support a full ban, the poll also found that 51 percent of Germans would like to ban the burqa entirely as national security becomes a growing concern.
In the Netherlands, proposed legislation to ban face coverings goes as far as to ban motorcycle helmets, but Politico reports that the ban is not strictly for security purposes. Supporters of the ban have cited oppression of women has a primary reason, stating that they are “forced to wear what some call ‘a walking coffin’ that ‘demeans their dignity’ and leaves them in no position to refuse.”
Others, such as activist Naema Tahir, believe that “in a liberal society, you can only forbid something if it causes violence or forms a threat. You can’t associate every woman wearing a burqa with danger, threats, (or) oppression.”
Other European countries have refused to ban burqas or face coverings for similar reasons. Norway, despite the leading party’s support for a ban, has been unable to pass legislation. According to The Local, integration minister Sylvi Listhaug said that the country will not pursue a national ban because the Progress Party that she led into office is unable to receive support from other parties in parliament. There have been some regional bans in Norway, however, with Oslo banning even partial face-coverings in schools throughout the municipality.