For more than a decade, Geert Wilders, the anti-Islamic Dutch politician who ran for prime minister last year, has been pushing for a burqa ban in the Netherlands. It's part of his larger mission to “deislamize” the country.
Wilders lost his 2017 political bid by a significant margin. But on Tuesday, he and his Party for Freedom scored a legislative victory when the Dutch Senate passed a “partial ban” on face veils in the country.
Under the new law, anyone who wears face-covering clothing in schools, hospitals, government buildings and on public transportation will be subject to a fine of about $460.
Some supporters of the measure say that the new law is necessary to facilitate communication and that it also applies to motorcycle helmets and ski masks. Others see it as part of a broader campaign. “This is the first step, and the next step is to close all the mosques in the Netherlands,” said Sen. Marjolein Faber-Van de Klashorst, a member of Wilders's party, according to the Associated Press.
The law's critics, meanwhile, say it directly targets Muslim women at a time when anti-Islamic sentiment is sweeping across Europe. In the Netherlands, an estimated 400 women wear full-face veils. Many are concerned that the new law will disproportionately affect them.
“The only effect will be that many of these women will stay at home even more,” Sen. Ruard Ganzevoort of the Green Party told reporters after the ruling. “They will not have an opportunity to go to school. They will not have an opportunity to go to learn to swim, and all those things.”
The Netherlands was the first European country to propose a burqa ban, which it did in 2005. France and Belgium have had more austere bans in place since 2011. Both countries have banned the burqa in any public setting; those laws have been upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
Bulgaria, Austria and Denmark also have imposed versions of the ban, in part fueled by the countries' far-right parties. In Australia, a vocal anti-Islam politician sparked outrage when she wore a burqa in parliament as part of her push to ban it.