Dutch Bracing For Backlash On Proposed Ban On Burqas

Dutch bracing for backlash on proposed ban on burqas
Embassies warned of possible Muslim outrage

By Mike Corder
The Associated Press, November 21, 2006

The Hague, Netherlands (AP) — A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that the Dutch government has sent its embassies advice on addressing concerns about a proposed law that would ban head-to-toe Islamic robes known as burqas, fearing a possible backlash from some Muslim countries.

The government announced the proposal Friday, citing security concerns and the difficulty of communicating while wearing a burqa as reasons for the ban, which also covers clothing such as ski masks and full-face helmets.

The announcement puts the Netherlands, once considered one of Europe's most welcoming nations for immigrants and asylum-seekers, at the forefront of a general European hardening of attitudes toward Muslim minorities.

Herman van Gelderen, spokesman for Foreign Minister Ben Bot, said Dutch embassies have been sent details of the proposed law so they 'can respond to critical remarks or whatever.'

His comments came after the Algemeen Dagblad reported that a Foreign Ministry memo had warned of a possible outrage in Islamic nations against the legislation that has been branded a burqa ban.

Van Gelderen said the report appeared to be based on a briefing document written for Bot nine months ago before a visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. At that time, the Islamic world was in an uproar over the publication in Denmark of cartoons that many Muslims said insulted the Prophet Mohammed.

The government's plans sparked no protests in the Netherlands, where a small number of the 1 million Muslim women wear a burqa.

However, a moderate Muslim group condemned the move and the opposition Labor Party suggested it was an election stunt to win right-wing votes for Verdonk's Liberal Party ahead of Wednesday's national ballot.

Reaction in the Muslim worlds has so far been minimal. Only Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar commented on the proposed ban, calling it 'imbalanced treatment' of Muslims.

'Why can't people have the freedom to dress the way they want?' he said. 'The world will be a better place if we understood diversity.'