| ||The Daily Telegraph has today reported on two developments in Europe which demonstrate how anti-Muslim discourse has found its way into national legislation in European countries. |
The first is the Dutch burqa ban which has been introduced today, making Holland the third country in Europe to implement such a ban after France and Belgium. Only 100 women are thought to wear the burqa in the whole of Holland, though this doesn’t seem to have deterred politicians from passing the law.
From the Daily Telegraph:
“Women caught wearing a burka in public, on the streets, public transport and in schools or hospitals will be fined £330.
“Cabinet ministers will justify the ban with the argument that the burka does “not fit into our open society and women must participate fully.”
Following elections last year, in which Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party became the third largest political party, Wilders made support for the minority coalition government conditional on the introduction of legislation banning the burqa.
The second story in the DT relates to the prohibition in France of praying on the streets of Paris, legislation which could later be extended to cover the whole of France.
French Interior Minister, Claude Guéant stated that, "My vigilance will be unflinching for the law to be applied. Praying in the street is not dignified for religious practice and violates the principles of secularism”
The legislation relates to the issue of Muslims gathering to pray outside mosques because of a lack of capacity, particularly on a Friday. Under an agreement signed this week, Muslims will be able to use the premises of a vast nearby fire station while awaiting the construction of a bigger mosque.
In December 2010, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front party described the practice as the "political act of fundamentalists", and likened the practice to the Nazi occupation of Paris in World War Two, "without the tanks or soldiers".
President Sarkozy’s party denounced her comments but called for a debate specifically on Islam and Secularism. Interior Minister Guéant later “promised a countrywide ban "within months", saying the "street is for driving in, not praying".”
Sheikh Mohamed Salah Hamza, leader of a Parisian mosque which regularly overflows, stated that the mosque would abide by the new law but complained that, "We are not cattle” adding that he was "not entirely satisfied with the new location”.
Both of these examples - the burqa ban and the street prayer ban, illustrate how rife Islamophobia is at a mainstream level in European politics, and how this is being illustrated again and again by legislation which is specifically targeted at Europe’s Muslim communities. The threat of closure of France’s oldest Muslim school, and one of only two state-aided Muslim schools amongst 8000 state-aided faith schools is another case in point. The cases are exemplary of the struggle for equal treatment under the law faced by many European Muslims.
In July of this year, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg criticised burqa bans saying they risked alienating, rather than liberating women. He said that debates on the burqa and niqab were an unnecessary distraction from much more important issues and epitomised xenophobic prejudices.
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