A senior Belgium diplomat specialising in protocol has been arrested for tearing off the full-face veil of a Qatari princess after she asked him for directions.
In the latest example of the difficulties involved in imposing a so-called “burka ban”, Jean-Marie Pire did not know the identity of the massively wealthy VIP before attacking her.
She approached him with two other women in broad daylight in central Brussels last week, asking for directions to the famous Grand Place. The kind of full face veils favoured by some Muslim women are banned in Belgium, just as they are in neighbouring countries including France.
“I said I don’t talk to anyone if I can’t see their face,” said Mr Pire. “With this reply, I wanted to make it clear that the veil is banned in Belgium. Because the person asking me a question didn’t seem to hear me, I lifted her veil. I know I shouldn’t have done that, but what she did wasn’t legal either!”
The woman, who has not been named, said she suffered cuts and bruises after her earrings were violently dislodged, along with her veil.
She has made an official complaint to Brussels prosecutors, who may now charge Mr Pire with assault. The woman herself faces a fine of around £115 and up to seven days in prison for wearing the veil in public.
Some onlookers have claimed that Mr Pire was drunk at the time of the incident, although he denies this, saying it was “three o’clock in the afternoon”, adding: “Besides, I don’t drink much.”
As the Chief of Protocol for the city of Brussels, one of Mr Pire’s main jobs is to welcome foreign dignitaries, including many from the Middle East.