Netherlands moves toward total ban on Muslim veils

The Netherlands may become the first European country to ban Muslim face veils after its government pledged yesterday to outlaw the wearing in public spaces of the niqab, or veil, and the burka, or full-length cloak covering the head.

The right-leaning coalition said last night that it would look for a way to outlaw the wearing of all Muslim face veils. The grounds for a ban were laid last December when parliament voted in favour of a proposal to criminalise face coverings, as part of a security measure proposed by a far-right politician, Geert Wilders.

Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister, signalled that the government would now push for a total ban, even though the legislation would be likely to contravene Dutch religious freedom laws.

“The cabinet finds the wearing of a burka undesirable … but cannot at present enforce a total ban,” the Dutch news agency ANP quoted her as saying after a cabinet meeting.

Ms Verdonk suggested that existing legislation which limits the wearing of burkas and other full-body coverings on public transport and in schools did not go far enough, and that the cabinet would discuss as wide a ban as possible in the coming week.

“The government will search for the possibility to provide a ban,” her spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.

Guardian, 11 November 2006