THE HAGUE — In a retreat from the previous cabinet’s plan for a general ban, the Dutch government has said it would now impose a partial ban on niqab in the western European country. “Face coverings are undesirable in an open society, they hinder communication between people and undermine equal chances for men and women,” Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in statements cited Saturday, February 9, by Reuters.
He says the government will impose a face veil ban on its civil servants and in schools, and it will enter talks with public transport companies on adding a ban to their terms and conditions for passengers. The government wants clauses to the contracts of public employees forbidding them from wearing face-covering garments.
The cabinet has decided against a broad ban on niqab in public as that would violate the principle of freedom of religion. “Wearing Islamic face-covering veils is an expression of religion and freedom of religion can only be infringed in very special and specific circumstances,” Internal Affairs Minister Guusje ter Horst said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
If the talks with other bodies like private transport companies fail, the cabinet can always introduce enforcement regulations, the minister said.
Shortly before being voted out of office, the previous centre-right Dutch government proposed a complete ban on niqab 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 — called the government’s reported retreat “very disappointing and cowardly”, according to the Dutch news agency ANP. Wilders sent a bill to parliament last July proposing a ban on niqab in public.