Dutch To Ban Burqas In Schools/Gov’t Offices

Dutch to ban burqas in schools/govt offices-media

Wed 23 Jan 2008, 16:13 GMT

AMSTERDAM, Jan 23 (Reuters Life!) – The Dutch government is set to impose a ban on the Muslim burqa in schools and government offices, media reported on Wednesday, in a retreat from the previous cabinet's plan for a general ban.

The cabinet has decided against a broad ban on burqas in public as that would violate the principle of freedom of religion, news agency ANP said, citing unnamed cabinet sources.

The Muslim community says only about 50 women wear the head-to-toe burqa or the niqab, a face veil that conceals everything but the eyes. They said a general ban would heighten alienation among the country's about 1 million Muslims.

An interior ministry spokesman said there was no final decision on the subject yet and the issue is expected to be discussed at the weekly cabinet meeting on Friday next week.

The wearing of headscarves in schools and at work is a sensitive topic across the European Union.

France, with Europe's largest Muslim minority, bans headscarves and other religious garb from state schools. Italy has a decades-old law against covering the face in public as an anti-terrorism measure.

Shortly before being voted out of office, the previous centre-right Dutch government proposed a complete ban on burqas and other Muslim face-veils in public, citing security concerns.

A new centrist coalition government of Christian Democrats, Labour and the Christian Union came into power in February 2007 and has taken a more conciliatory line on immigration.

Right-wing lawmaker Geert Wilders — who has angered Muslims with his fierce criticism of Islam — sent a bill to parliament last July proposing a ban on the burqa in public.

He called the government's reported retreat “very disappointing and cowardly”, according to ANP.

Philip van Praag, political science professor at Amsterdam University, said the partial ban would be welcomed by many: “It does not seem extreme. In the eyes of lots of Dutch people, they do not like the burqa at all,” he said.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee)