The Danish Parliament has passed a ban on Islamic full-face veils in public spaces. The new law, sponsored by Denmark's center-right government, and backed by the Social Democrats and the Danish People's Party, was passed on May 31 by 75 votes to 30.
As of August 1, anyone found wearing a burka (which covers the entire face) or a niqab (which covers the entire face except for the eyes) in public in Denmark will be subject to a fine of 1,000 Danish kroner (€135; $157); repeat offenders could be fined 10,000 Danish kroner.
In addition, anyone found to be requiring a person through force or threats to wear garments that cover the face could be fined or face up to two years in prison.
Denmark becomes the sixth European country to enact such a ban, after France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Austria. Bavaria in Germany, Catalonia in Spain and Ticino in Switzerland also have imposed regional burka bans, while Norway has tabled a law to ban burkas in public schools. The bans seemingly seek to restrict the proliferating expression of political Islam in Europe.
The Danish burka ban was first proposed by the Danish People's Party in 2009. MP Martin Henriksen said that burkas and niqabs "are incompatible with Danish culture." He added:
"It has taken almost ten years to convince a majority in the parliament that we should ban burka and niqab in public spaces. Now that the ban has been approved, Parliament should, in the opinion of the Danish People's Party, continue to work on additional measures against the Islamization of Denmark."
In a statement, Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen said:
"To keep one's face hidden when meeting each other in public spaces is incompatible with the values in Danish society and disrespectful to the community. We must take care to show respect for our community and the values that bind us together. With a ban on covering the face we are drawing a line in the sand and underlining that in Denmark we show each other trust and respect by meeting face to face."
Amnesty International said the new law was a "discriminatory violation of women's rights. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), however, twice has ruled that burka bans are legal.
In July 2017, for example, the ECHR unanimously upheld a Belgian ban on wearing the burka in public spaces. It said that the government had been responding "to a practice that it considered to be incompatible, in Belgian society, with social communication and more generally the establishment of human relations, which were indispensable for life in society...essential to ensure the functioning of a democratic society."
In October 2010, France became the first European country to ban Islamic veils in public. The then Prime Minister François Fillon said that the ban was aimed at "solemnly reaffirming the values of the republic" and argued that "concealing the face...places the people involved in a position of exclusion and inferiority incompatible with the principles of liberty, equality and human dignity affirmed by the French Republic."
The president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that the burqa is "a new form of enslavement that will not be welcome in the French Republic." Jacques Myard, a former conservative MP who supported the ban, said the burqa was a "shock" to French culture: "The face is a dignity of a person. The face is your passport. When you refuse me to see you, I am a victim."
An unnamed 24-year-old French citizen of Pakistani origin challenged the new law. In July 2014, however, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld France's burqa ban, accepting the French government's argument that it encouraged citizens to "live together."
In November 2016, the parliament of the Netherlands voted overwhelmingly in favor of a partial ban on face-covering Islamic veils in some public spaces, including schools, hospitals, government buildings and on public transport.
In October 2016, Bulgaria's parliament banned face veils in public. Those who fail to comply with the ban face fines of up to 1,500 levs (€770; $900), as well as suspension of social welfare benefits.
In October 2017, a burka ban entered into effect in Austria. The so-called Anti-Face-Veiling Act (Anti-Gesichtsverhüllungsgesetz) also prohibits the face from being covered in public by scarves, masks and face paint. Those found violating the law are subject to a fine of €150 ($175).
Back in Denmark, Muslims greeted the new law with defiance: A dozen women dressed in burkas and niqabs sat in the visitor's gallery at the parliament in Copenhagen. "Under no circumstances will I compromise my own principles," said one of them.
Justice Minister Søren Pape Poulsen said that "some people do not want to be a part of Danish society and want to create parallel societies with their own norms and rules." This, he said, proved the need for a burka ban: "We want to live in a society where we can see each other in the eyes. Where we see each other's faces in an open democracy. As Danes, this is the way we must be together."