Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Countries across the continent have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes. The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism.
Headscarves are allowed at French universities – but not schools
France has for years been debating whether to ban the “full veil”.
In early 2010 President Nicolas Sarkozy said it was “not welcome” in France.
This was followed by a French parliamentary committee recommending a partial ban, saying that veils covering the face were an affront to French values and proposing they be banned from inside public buildings – such as hospitals and schools – and public transport.
A ban on Muslim headscarves and other “conspicuous” religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004, and received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.
Opinion polls suggest a majority of French people support a full ban.
But January’s parliamentary report recommended that restrictions should be limited. Some MPs feel a ban will stigmatise Muslim women and be difficult to enforce.
The committee’s report is expected to be followed by the drafting of a bill and a parliamentary debate on the issue.
There is no ban on Islamic dress in the UK, but schools are allowed to forge their own dress code after a 2007 directive which followed several high-profile court cases.
Schools Secretary Ed Balls said in January 2010 it was “not British” to tell people what to wear in the street after the UK Independence Party called for all face-covering Muslim veils to be banned.
Ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who leads UKIP’s 13 MEPs in Brussels, said the veils were a symbol of an “increasingly divided Britain”, that they “oppressed” women, and were a potential security threat.
UKIP is the first British party to call for a total ban, after the anti-immigration British National Party had already called called for the veil to be banned in Britain’s schools.
In 2006, the Dutch government considered but abandoned plans to impose a ban on all forms of coverings that obscured the face – from burkas to crash helmets with visors – in public places, saying they disturbed public order and safety. Lawyers said the move would likely be unconstitutional and critics said it would violate civil rights.
The government suggested it would instead seek a ban on face-covering veils in schools and state departments, but no legislation has yet been passed.
Around 5% of the Netherlands’ 16 million residents are Muslims, but only around 300 are thought to wear the burka.
For more than 85 years Turks have lived in a secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who rejected headscarves as backward-looking in his campaign to secularise Turkish society.Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf
Scarves are banned in civic spaces and official buildings, but the issue is deeply divisive for the country’s predominantly Muslim population, as two-thirds of all Turkish women – including the wives and daughters of the prime minister and president – cover their heads.
In 2008, Turkey’s constitution was amended to ease a strict ban at universities, allowing headscarves that were tied loosely under the chin. Headscarves covering the neck and all-enveloping veils were still banned.
The governing party, with its roots in Islam, said the ban meant many girls were being denied an education. But the secular establishment said easing it would be a first step to allowing Islam into public life.
In 2004 local politicians in northern Italy resurrected old public order laws against the wearing of masks, to stop women from wearing the burka.
Some mayors from the anti-immigrant Northern League have also banned the use of Islamic swimsuits.
In 2008, the government announced it would bar judges from wearing headscarves and similar religious or political symbols – including crucifixes, Jewish skull caps and turbans – in courtrooms.
That move came after pressure from the Danish People’s Party (DPP), known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, which has since called for the ban to be extended to include school-teachers and medical personnel.
After a Danish paper published a controversial cartoon in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bearded man with a bomb in his turban, there were a series of protests against Denmark across the Muslim world.
Teacher Fereshta Ludin’s case prompted states to legislate
In September 2003 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school.
However, it said states could change their laws locally if they wanted to.
At least four German states have gone on to ban teachers from wearing headscarves and in the state of Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants.
Although there is no nationwide ban, several districts have banned the burka in public places under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time.
In Antwerp, for example, police can now reprimand, or even imprison, offenders. They say the regulation is all about public safety.
Russia’s Supreme Court has overturned a 1997 interior ministry ruling which forbade women from wearing headscarves in passport photos.
Austria’s Women’s Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek has said a ban should be considered in public spaces if the number of women wearing the veil increases dramatically.
In late 2009, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said a face-veil ban should be considered if more Muslim women begin wearing them, adding that the veils made her feel “uncomfortable”.
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