Pride in Being Belgian

Fatema Ahmed · The Belgian Burqa-Ban

Last Monday, the Belgian prime minister handed in his resignation to King Albert II and another Belgian government fell. The cause: the withdrawal of a small Flemish party from the Christian Democrat Yves Leterme’s five-party coalition. New legislative elections have yet to be called but in the meantime Belgian politicians have managed to find something they can all agree on.

On Thursday, the lower house of parliament voted almost unanimously (136 deputies out of 138, with two abstentions) to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil, or niqab, in public places. The legislation doesn’t anywhere actually mention the veil – merely forbidding 'all clothing completely or mainly hiding the face' – but no one has suggested that it’s aimed at motorcycle couriers or people whose idea of a good night out is a masked ball. The penalty will be a fine of 15 to 25 euros and/or up to a week in prison – opponents of the veil who describe it as a prison mobile seem to have no problem with putting women who wear one into actual prison if they have their best interests at heart.

Of Belgian’s 10.3 million citizens, 400,000 are Muslims. Let’s say that half of them (almost certainly an overestimate) are women. Of these, it’s possible that as few as 30 of them wear the full veil. And the Belgian police already have the power to stop and caution women with covered faces. In the last year and a half there have been 29 bookings in the whole of the central Brussels-Capital region, although it’s not clear if the warnings were issued to 29 separate women or one very persistent repeat offender.

But let us rejoice with the Liberal deputy Denis Ducarme in this rare moment of Belgian unity:

Our country’s image abroad is more and more incomprehensible, but, at least, in relation to the unanimity this vote in our parliament banning the burqa and niqab in our country will show, there is an element of pride in being Belgian.

Where Belgium leads, many hope, the rest of Europe will follow. Next up is France where, Le Figaro reported on Friday, a draft bill banning the full veil (sorry, ‘clothing intended to hide the face’) in public places will be presented to the council of ministers on 19 May. The fine proposed is a whopping 150 euros, with UMP deputies in favour of a 750-euro fine. Perhaps Belgian members of parliament, especially the Dutch speakers, will feel less pleased with themselves once they see an influx of cheapskate Francophone veiled burqa-wearers from next door.


  • 3 May 2010 at 10:27am
    PeterL says:
    Brilliant post. Appaently there is a derogation to the face-hiding law for Carnival-goers, although I'm not sure if this applies to niqab-wearing Carnival-goers. I fancy testing this next-year.

    Seriously though, did we need this further evidence that the Belgian political class should just pack up and go home? How long will it take these guys to abolish themselves? The comments of Mr. Ducarne are beyond parody...

  • 3 May 2010 at 12:46pm
    outofdate says:
    In the interest of whatchamacallit, we should also point out that in Saudi Arabia, etc. Some arguments luckily argue themselves while we nip out for a fag.

    • 3 May 2010 at 2:04pm
      pinhut says: @ outofdate
      The necessary corollary in Saudi Arabia, or indeed any other Muslim country, would be to ban all people from not wearing a full veil.

    • 3 May 2010 at 4:39pm
      outofdate says: @ pinhut
      There I've been struggling to think of a witty reply for half an hour or more, which obviously flies in the face of the point I was making in the first place, so [can we swear on this blog?] it: you win.

  • 3 May 2010 at 4:17pm
    Geoff Roberts says:
    The Belgian government has no other problems? Several German Länder have banned teachers from wearing head scarves. A woman with Turkish origins has just been appointed minister in Lower Saxony - hailed as a breakthrough for the four million Muslims. And what did she say to a snide reporter? that crucifixes and head scarves 'have no place in the class room'. This was smartly fielded by Minister President, who said that she had been misquoted. The German High Court has ruled that indeed crucifixes have no place in classrooms but that doesn't seem to have been heard. Why headscarves are so subversive escapes me. I'm no friend of the Burkah so I hope that there is a Belgian feminist group that starts to talk to Muslims and even dons the odd head scarf. Echoes of 'Snow' by Orhan Pamuk?

  • 3 May 2010 at 5:50pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    I'm rather looking forward to donning a burkah when I go down the supermarket.

  • 5 May 2010 at 2:18pm
    astaire says:
    What does "Liberal" mean, if anything, to M. Ducarme?

Read more