Further evidence of how deeply the murder of Theo Van Gogh has affected Dutch society since November last year is provided by the latest news in from the Netherlands:
The country’s hardline Integration Minister, Rita Verdonk, known as the Iron Lady for her series of tough anti-immigration measures, told Parliament that she was going to investigate where and when the burka should be banned. The burka, traditional clothing in some Islamic societies, covers a woman’s face and body, leaving only a strip of gauze for the eyes.
Mrs Verdonk gave warning that the “time of cosy tea-drinking” with Muslim groups had passed and that natives and immigrants should have the courage to be critical of each other. She recently cancelled a meeting with Muslim leaders who refused to shake her hand because she was a woman.
The proposals are likely to win the support of Parliament because of the expected backing by right-wing parties. But they have caused outrage among Muslim and human rights groups, who say that the Government is pandering to the far Right.
The Times reporter sees all sorts of problems with this proposal, not least the lack of Human Rights compliance:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Expect long legal arguments in the future over how much weight should be given to the respective (and contradictory) rights contained in the two clauses above, and also such battles taking place in locations other than the Netherlands:
The Netherlands would become the first European country to ban the wearing of the burka in public situations, although there are already some local bans. Last year several Belgian towns, including Antwerp and Ghent, banned the wearing of the burka in public, and recently started issuing £100 spot fines for breaking the municipal ordinance. Several towns in Italy, including Como, have invoked legislation introduced by Mussolini that bans hiding one’s face in public to impose fines on burka-wearers. France and several regions of Germany have followed Turkey and Tunisia in banning the wearing of the hijab, which leaves the face visible, in public buildings, most controversially in schools.