Veil bans spread in Catalonia

There are no burqas on the streets of Tarrés. In fact, there are no Muslims at all in this village of 108 inhabitants in north-east Spain. But that will not stop the parish council debating whether to ban burqas and face-covering niqabs from parts of the village next week.

“It is true that there are no Muslims living in the village now, but this would be a preventive measure in case they come,” said parish councillor Daniel Rivera, from the tiny and openly xenophobic Partit per Catalunya.

Rivera’s motion to ban burqas has outraged many. Other councillors plan to vote against it, but whatever the result, the motion is symptomatic of wider moves in the Catalonia region to ban Islamic veils from public buildings.

Today the nearby provincial capital, Lleida, formally passed a ban that was first announced in May. Women found wearing burqas in public buildings will first be given a warning, but any repeat will lead to a fine of between €300 and €600 (£250-£500).

From Barcelona to Tarragona, bans are being slapped into place across the region. “At this rate we will end up with more bans than burqas,” said the immigration minister, Celestino Corbacho, himself a former town mayor in Catalonia.

The Lleida ban was not passed by the anti-immigrant parties but, as in Barcelona, by a socialist-led council. “This is about equality between men and women,” Mayor Ángel Ros said. “The burqa and the niqab are symbols of the political use of a religious dogmatism that had begun to appear in Lleida.”

Guardian, 2 July 2010