Spanish parliament set to debate restricting burqas in public, opposition party saysBy Harold Heckle, AP
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Spanish parliament to debate ban on public burqas
MADRID — Spanish lawmakers will debate barring burqas in public, joining other European countries considering similar moves on the grounds that the body-covering garments are degrading to women, the leading opposition party said Sunday.
Top officials of the ruling Socialist Party have indicated they will support the proposal by the opposition Popular Party, making a ban likely unless the country’s highest court rules it unconstitutional.
A debate in Spain’s lower house has been set by the Popular Party for Tuesday or Wednesday, the party said.
No vote will be scheduled until after the debate, and Spain’s Parliament usually goes on vacation for a month starting in late July or early August.
Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said on June 15 that garments like the burqa are “hardly compatible with human dignity.”
Head-covering veils would not be included in a ban as they form a part of traditional Spanish dress, with women often covering their heads with a garment called a mantilla, especially during church services in the south of the country.
Other European nations that have debated regulating the use of body-covering burqas or face-covering niqabs include Belgium, the Netherlands and France.
A notable exception has been Britain, where Immigration Minister Damian Green described calls to outlaw such garb as “un-British.”
“Telling people what they can and can’t wear, if they’re just walking down the street, is a rather un-British thing to do,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
“We’re a tolerant and mutually respectful society.”
France’s lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils on July 13 in an effort to define and protect French values, a move that angered many in the country’s large Muslim community.
The French ban on burqas and niqabs goes before Senate in September amid predictions it will pass, but its biggest hurdle could come when France’s constitutional watchdog scrutinizes it later.
Britain and France have sizable Muslim minorities that they have sometimes struggled to integrate. Differences over dress — in particular the stark-looking niqab, usually an all-back garment which leaves only the eyes visible — often serve as touchstones for wider discussions about Islam, identity, and immigration.
A British Conservative lawmaker has just tabled a French-style bill that would outlaw the niqab, but the bill hasn’t received any support for the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and isn’t likely to get very far.
Belgium’s lower house approved a ban on face-covering veils, but it must still 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.
Switzerland last year banned building new minarets from which Muslims are called to prayer, following a national referendum last year.
Spain has about 1 million Muslims in the nation of 47 million, with most living in the northeastern region of Catalonia and the southern region Andalucia. However, burqas are rarely seen.
Spain’s second-largest city of Barcelona in June banned the use of burqas and niqabs in municipal buildings, joining a handful of small towns and cities nearby that have taken similar steps.
Mansur Escudero, spokesman for Spain’s Islamic Commission, said in June that there is no religious mandate for Muslim women to wear burqas and the garment was “extravagant,” but criticized government efforts to ban the outfit because he said women should be able to exercise free choice in how they dress.
Associated Press Writer Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.
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