Dutch law on burqas reveals more than was intended


The Netherlands is in a dither about burqas, niqabs and other face coverings. It’s banned them but doesn’t want to enforce the prohibition because there isn’t really a problem per se.

Of the Netherlands’ 17 million people, only about 150 to 400 women wear burqas and niqabs, according to Annelies Moors, a professor of sociology at the University of Amsterdam who studied the potential effect of the ban before it passed.

Anyway, on Thursday, August 1, the new Dutch law went into effect, banning such garments – as well as ski masks and full helmets – in schools, government offices and hospitals. Anyone who breaks the law could be fined 150 euros (roughly $166).

But no one’s sure how or why to enforce the law.

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema is already on record that her administration will not. The Dutch police has issued guidelines requiring government workers in schools, hospitals and on public transport to ask people to remove face coverings or leave the premises. But there’s little appetite to follow through on buses and trains and in hospitals.

The Netherlands doesn’t seem to have a particular problem. So why does it have this law?

There’s talk this legislation, which was passed last year, was the product of a particular point of time, when Dutch parliamentarians were veering toward nationalism (with a strong element of Islamophobia).

The law is, in a sense, proof of the Geert Wilders effect. The far-right MP has fanned anti-Muslim sentiment.

The law against face-coverings is a good example of pointless but powerful hate. Ms Moors says just about 5 per cent of the Netherlands’ adult population is Muslim.

In other words, the law seems a bit of an over-reaction or as Ms Moors says, providing “a solution for a non-existent problem”.

Citizen’s arrests are always possible, as the Danish newspaper Algemeen Dagblad said, which would suit the right-wing very well, in the words of Professor Tom Zwart of Utrecht University.

That’s when a problem that doesn’t exist may actually become one.