On May 31st, the Denmark parliament banned the Burqa and Niqab in public places. The bill was passed with 75 in favour of the ban and 30 against the ban, while 74 members were absent for the vote. This law will come in effect from the month of August. A violation of the law by a person in the first attempt will be met with a 1000 Kroner (Denmark currency) fine, which can go up to 10,000 Kroner for four-time violation. The earlier version of the bill went further, demanding a prison sentence for those who violated the law, which later came to be withdrawn.
The current Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the Venstre, (Danmarks Liberale Parti) conservative liberal party, gave a statement in 2010 saying “Burqa and Niqab do not have their place in the Danish society. They symbolize a conception, of the woman and of humanity, to which we are fundamentally opposed, and that we want to fight in the Danish society”. The far-right Danish People’s Party (DPP), which is in coalition with the conservative liberal party, has primarily backed this law, initially demanding prison sentence for Burqa and Niqab.
With the above, Denmark has come to join the list of other countries which have banned the Burqa and Niqab previously. While France, Belgium had done the same in 2011, Latvia followed in 2016. The Bulgarian parliament has also banned their citizen from having any cloth cover their faces. The Austrian government, on the other hand, has not only banned the Burqa last year, in October 2017, with the provision of fining women 150 Euros on the spot but has gone a step further with even the police forcefully asking women to remove their head cover in some places.
Bowing to the Far Right
The European governments are progressively sinking into the far right’s politics, one country after another, with Denmark being the most recent example. With the population of burqa wearing Muslim women in Denmark being under just few hundreds, the so called “un-Denmark-like culture” has been brought in as the main reason by the government to ban the burqa and niqab. The arguments to ban the burqa underlines the deep rooted anti-Islamic or Islamophobic sentiments planted by far right organisations.
The ban also exposes the fragility of liberalism in Europe, which was carefully built after the Second World War to overcome and surpass the horrors committed by the European countries during the war.
The ban also exposes the narrow mindedness and typical western orientalist understanding of the ‘cultural’ by the European countries, which have historically pushed aside multicultural countries, advocating monolithic ones. The ban also underscores racism and state imposed patriarchy by the European states.
The European liberals have rather developed a ‘Stockholm syndrome’ for the far-right, which is the reason they continued to fail in stopping the far- right’s agenda. It might, in fact, be stated, with the example of Denmark’s liberal party, that the liberals have rather been getting voluntarily trapped in the far-right agenda. While the Social Democratic party supported the ban in the parliament, around 74 members of the Parliament abstained from voting. It clearly shows that the liberals are willing to even lose rather than oppose the ban.
The limitation of the European Union
It is a retrospective irony that the European Union had received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2012, for since then, Europe has witnessed the rise of far-right political outfits, with attacks on religious freedom increase many folds, including an attack on Mosques. In 2017, the European Court of Justice upheld the decision of companies to ban their staffs from wearing religious and political symbols in public. The judgment came to be wholeheartedly welcomed by many right-wing politicians and in turn gave a push to the right-wing parties in the national elections including the Danish People’s party, which has been instrumental in banning the burqa in Denmark
It must be noted that in doing the above, the EU judgment violated the EU constitution itself, which in Article II ‘81-82’- promises freedom from religion based discrimination and guarantees respect for all cultural, religions, and linguistic diversity.
While France became one of the major driving forces in EU to attack Syria for the latter’s alleged chemical attack, other member states, including Germany came to welcome the move later. The “Third Way” does not seem to be working any more in Europe. Recent political developments in Europe underlines the political limitations of the European Union and its inability to prevent not only attacks on the religious minorities but also the regulation over the choice of their clothes.
In 2006, under the rule of the former British Prime minister, Tony Blair, the Kirklees Council had suspended classroom assistant Aishah Azmi for refusing to remove her full face veil at school. Mr Blair, justifying the suspension, had infamously said “It is a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable. No-one wants to say that people don’t have the right to do it. That is to take it too far. But I think we need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly into our society.”
This statement by Blair clearly underlines that the European governments’ perspective to the nationality of individuals is through the religious lens. Earlier, this very perspective has been responsible for him accompanying George W. Bush in the latter’s infamous “War on Terror” campaign in the West Asian countries (Middle Eastern Countries). The statement also constitutes the precondition for ‘integration’ being giving up one’s religious beliefs and customs. This ‘other-isation’ of religious beliefs alien to European ‘culture’ has been the significant drive behind the burqa bans in the European countries. It is the same method of creating ‘otherness’ that had made colonisers out of them, enslaving African people and banning their culture in their own countries for nearly 300 years.
The Western countries are strong advocates of globalisation, but the existence of contemporary globalisation is only for the free movement of capital, not for freedom of culture nor of the people. The intolerance towards other religions and cultures only exposes the shallowness of the postliberal political order. Depriving women of the right to choose their clothing, has laid bare the condition of the liberals, where they have compromised with the far-right at the cost of basic values for their short time political and electoral benefits.
History seems to have come to a full circle in Europe, whereby to prevent the repetition of past horrors that the continent has experienced, instead of blaming and passing the buck on religious minorities, the Western countries must question themselves as to who must be held responsible for the current political situation.
The Denmark Burqa ban is not about “un-Denmark-like culture” but just the archaic unwillingness of Europe to accept and assimilate the ‘different’ in a sphere that has been dominantly monolithic and limited.