This past Friday, Bulgaria has banned full-face veils in public places. Veils are no longer permitted to be worn in public institutions, schools, nor in areas of administrative and public services. The ban does not include places of worship nor private homes.
The so-called “burqa ban” law, pushed by the Patriotic Front coalition, is very similar to laws passed by other European countries in recent years. Switzerland’s lower house has approved a bill banning veils, and a recent poll indicates that significant portions of the British population are also in favor of such a ban. In 2010, France issued a law banning burqas in public places, a law which was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights.
“While the court was aware that the disputed ban mainly affected certain Muslim women, it nevertheless noted that there was no restriction on the freedom to wear in public any item of clothing which did not have the effect of concealing the face and that the ban was not expressly based on the religious connotation of the clothing in question but solely on the fact that it concealed the face.”
In Bulgaria, officials claim the move will “prevent tension among communities and boost security.” The ruling party GERB states the ban is not targeted at religious outfits, but rather to benefit national security and video surveillance coverage.
The penalty for violating the ban is a fine of up to 1,500 levs (or approximately $860). Other penalties may include the suspension of some social benefits. Some exceptions may be made for professional or health reasons.
Amnesty International has staunchly opposed the burqa bans in each country in which the bans have been passed. Amnesty referred to the ban as “part of a disturbing trend of intolerance, xenophobia and racism in the Black Sea state.”
Amnesty International’s Europe Director John Dalhuisen issued a statement on the ban.
“Women in Bulgaria should be free to dress as they please and to wear the burqa or the niqab as an expression of their identity or beliefs. Legitimate security concerns can be met with targeted restrictions on the complete covering of the face in well-defined high risk locations and not through a blanket discriminatory ban such as this.”
The high state of tensions within the European Union over the last several years have seen a rise in what could easily be described as religious intolerance. With Islamic terrorist attacks killing hundreds in just the last year, the apparent backlash against the Muslim community is not surprising.
The MDL Turkish minority party accused the majority party of “sowing religious intolerance.” The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms refused to take part in the vote, also claiming that the ban would invite both ethnic and religious intolerance in the country.
The Bulgarian Muslim population is estimated to be about 12-13 percent of the country’s 7.2 million people. Such actions as those taken by the Bulgarian parliament to limit religious expression in public could potentially affect thousands of residents of the country. Resentment towards the Muslim population of Bulgaria has risen over the past years as the country has become a major transition point for immigrants migrating from Turkey to the rest of Europe.
On the other hand, the immediate effects of the burqa ban only affect a small number of Muslim women focused in the Roma community. The majority of Islamic women in the country do not wear burqas or niqabs.
So what do you think of the situation in Bulgaria? Is a “burqa ban” a legitimate security measure, or is it religious persecution of Muslims? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!
[Featured Image by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]