The Belgian lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a bill to ban wearing the full Islamic face veil in public, a move that could make Belgium the first European country to make the practice a criminal offence.
The draft law, cast as a security measure by proponents, was overwhelmingly backed by 136 lawmakers. Just two abstained.
The bill, which would ban all clothing that covers or partially covers the face, could become law in the coming months as the upper house, or Senate, is not expected to block it.
However, the collapse of Belgium's coalition government last week and the prospect of an imminent election could cause a delay because parliament would have to be dissolved.
France is considering similar legislation. Amnesty International sees clearly that these efforts are repressive, violating the right to follow the teachings of one's faith in a way that poses no threat to the wider society. The bill's supporters, who, alas, are liberals, argue that this is a security measure because people can "hide" behind the veil. Please. Where's the legislation banning the wearing of Groucho Marx glasses or Richard Nixon masks?
Tom Heneghan explores the possibility that the ban may spread.