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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Danish veil ban is thinly disguised racism

Another victory for hatemongers as European politics continues its inexorable slide to the right

Danish woman wearing her niqab on the first day of the implementation of the Danish face veil ban. Andrew Kelly / Reuters
Danish woman wearing her niqab on the first day of the implementation of the Danish face veil ban. Andrew Kelly / Reuters

What exactly are Danish “values”? It’s a question worth asking as Denmark joins the list of European countries that have banned the niqab and burqa. When the country’s justice minister proposed the ban in February, he said it was because full-face veils were “incompatible with the values in Danish society”.

In keeping with the fabrication that the ban is values-driven, Denmark’s right-of-centre government has sought to present the law as a boon for women’s rights. This is barefaced dissembling, perpetuating the falsehood that Muslim women are prisoners of constraints from which they yearn to be freed.

Instead, as Amnesty International has said, far from liberating anyone, this law “criminalises women for their choice of clothing and in so doing flies in the face of those freedoms Denmark purports to uphold”.

It is clear that this legislation is driven not by concern for individual rights, but by the rising tide of racist and nationalist sentiment that is threatening to inundate European politics.

That tide has led to similar legislation in countries including France, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium and is now threatening to erode the liberal foundations of Germany and Norway.

In an early draft of the Danish bill, the government sought to conceal its true purpose behind its own transparent veil, suggesting the law would apply to all “comprehensively masking items” including, ludicrously, false beards. That clause was dropped, presumably because someone realised that, come December, police would be obliged to arrest dozens of Julemandens, Denmark’s white-bearded Santas.

The unconcealable truth is that the veil is the most recognisable symbol of Islam and thus an obvious, soft target for those consumed by intolerance. What next, as this problematic law lends legitimacy to their hateful aims?

The Danish government is a coalition of three minority groups that relies on the support of the far-right People’s Party, which took 21 per cent of the vote in 2015. Its manifesto states it will not accept Denmark’s “transformation to a multi-ethnic society” and the party is pushing for further measures against the “Islamisation of Denmark”.

In Denmark, as elsewhere in Europe, liberal politicians are making increasing illiberal concessions in an unprincipled bid to cling on to power. In the process, they are legitimising and nourishing the narrative and rhetoric of the far right. This law should sound an alarm in Europe over the continent's own values.