Spanish government says it backs restricting use of burqas in government buildings

By Harold Heckle, AP
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Spanish move toward restricting burqa

MADRID — Spain’s government on Tuesday said it favors barring the use of burqas in government buildings, joining other European countries considering similar moves on the grounds that such garments are degrading to women.

Total body-covering Islamic veils demean women and the restriction will be included in an upcoming bill on religious issues, Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said.

The minister said garments like the burqa are “hardly compatible with human dignity” or with identifying a person in public spaces such as town halls or public schools.

“In my judgment it is extravagant for a woman to wear a burqa as it in no way reflects a religious mandate, but if a woman wants to wear one, then why shouldn’t she?” said Mansur Escudero, spokesman for Spain’s Islamic Commission.

Escudero said wearing the burqa did not attack moral standards and should not be offensive, but most of all it was a personal choice — and to legislate against its use undermined civil liberties.

The so-called religious freedom bill would also prohibit religious symbols like crucifixes or statues in state-owned buildings including hospitals.

Authorities in several European countries have been debating regulating the use of body-covering burqas or face-covering niqabs.

Belgium’s lower house has approved a ban on face-covering veils, though it must be ratified by its upper chamber.

The Netherlands debated banning burqas four years ago and may yet outlaw attire that is considered as demeaning to women.

Even Britain and France, home to millions of migrants from former colonies, are questioning their strong multicultural traditions, with the French government currently considering legislation.

Some countries have broadened the debate to cover other Islamic traditions. Switzerland recently banned the construction of minarets that broadcast Muslim calls to prayer following a national referendum.

Spain has a million Muslims in a total population of 47 million, but burqas are rarely seen.

Barcelona, the country’s second-largest city, said Monday it will ban the use of burqas and niqabs in municipal buildings, joining a handful of Catalan towns that have taken similar steps.

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