Five towns in Belgium have banned women wearing the veil.
The burqa and a smaller type of face mask, the niqab, has been banned by municipal injunction in the cities and towns of Ghent, Antwerp, Sint-Truiden, Lebbeke and Maaseik.
One woman has refused to comply:
Her case has prompted politicians in the country’s Dutch-speaking north to talk about changing federal law, after she became the first person in Belgium to be fined for wearing the all-enveloping veil and robe.
Meanwhile in neighbouring France opposition to the ban on religious symbols in state schools appears to be over:
Twelve months on, the row has subsided and the law is being hailed by the Government as a success that has stemmed the Islamic fundamentalist tide and brought calm to the nation’s lycées.
Fathima, who is 16, agrees. “In the end I really don’t think it was a bad law at all. I wear my voile until I get to the school gates and then I take it off. School is not a place for religion. It is a place where we are all French and we are all equal. After lessons, I put the scarf back on again. There’s no difficulty.”
Standing across the road in a light-green tunic and cream-coloured headscarf was Sarra, a tall, self-assured 16-year-old. Last year she took part in demonstrations against la loi sur le voile and had considered defying the authorities by refusing to remove hers.
Today her anger is subdued. “We had our rebellion and it didn’t work, so I’ll take my scarf off before I go into the lycée. It was difficult at first but I’ve learnt to accept it.”