I’m ambiguous about the burqa and the niqab (more Islamist than Islamic head to toe “modesty wear” which leaves the whole face covered except for eyes). On the one hand, it’s a relatively recent religious innovation now associated with the most illiberal interpretation of the religious tradition, which holds that a mere glimpse of female flesh can turn a man into a raging rapist, and thus the full dress is necessary to protect women from men, men from themselves, and women from shame. There is nothing “liberating” or “feminist” about being forced (because in most cases it’s not a choice) to wear a tent. Furthermore, those who champion such comprehensive cover-up more often than not consider it a political statement about their hostility to the open Western society and the refusal to acculturate.
On the other hand, I hate the idea of banning things just because I, or anyone else for that matter, don’t like something, even if it’s as repugnant as the burqa or the niqab are (you can read my previous musings on the topic here, here or here).
An increasing number of countries, however, do ban them – even many which otherwise consider themselves quite liberal, like Denmark, France, Belgium, and Austria, which de facto ban strict Islamic dress by prohibiting the covering of one’s face in public places (Germany, Spain, Italy and Switzerland have partial bans. Some Muslim countries, like Tunisia and Morocco, have also banned the burqa too, so it’s not just a “Western” thing). Now the Netherlands is going the partial Monty, so to speak, as of today:
Under the new legislation — an idea first proposed back in 2005 by the far-right politician Geert Wilders — face-covering clothing, including the burqa and the niqab but also crash helmets and ski masks, will be outlawed in all public buildings and on public transport, but not in the street. There will be a €150 fine for anyone caught breaking the law.
So far so good (or bad, if you are an Islamist or a libertarian), except that the ban won’t be enforced, as reported by the public transport sector spokesperson:
“The police told us they will not attend incidents on a train, bus or metro within half an hour so that means we would be stuck. The service cannot be interrupted.”
So because the police will not attend to an incident, public transport operators won’t enforce the law by themselves and are washing their (uncovered) hands:
“If a person wearing a burqa or a niqab is challenged trying to use a service, our staff will have no police backup to adjudicate on what they should do. It is not up to transport workers to impose the law and hand out fines.”
Needless to say, the effect is cascading:
Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema told local broadcaster AT5 last year that she wasn’t planning on enforcing the ban, because she believes it not to be “fitting with a city like Amsterdam.” Rotterdam and Utrecht are also expected to turn a blind eye.
Many hospitals have also said that they will not implement the ban. According to the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centers, hospitals “should not be charged with this task, but it is up to the police and the judiciary.”
And that’s fair enough, but think about this for a second: the police, who are all employed by the government, are effectively telling the government that they don’t consider the offence to be important enough so in effect they won’t be enforcing a law enacted by the nation’s parliament. You might disagree with banning the burqa, and you might indeed also think that the police are right that there are far more important crimes they should be concentrating on, but you have to admit that this is a rather bizarre scenario where public servants, all supposedly accountable to the parliament, make a decision which of the laws of the land they will enforce and which ones they won’t.
But it gets even more bizarre:
The issue became even more contentious when an article in AD on the ban suggested people would be allowed to carry out a citizen’s arrest if they felt “bothered” by a person wearing a full-face veil in a public space.
“If you are bothered by the burqa in a place where it is banned, you can ask the woman to take off her burqa or leave the location,” the newspaper advised readers, adding that you can also call the police or carry out a citizen’s arrest.
“Anyone who detects a criminal offence is entitled to arrest a suspect … But this is only allowed when someone has been caught in the act and when the suspect is immediately handed over to the police. Coercion may only be used to prevent a suspect from running away, for example by holding someone to the ground.”
The police later confirmed on Twitter that a citizen’s arrest would indeed be allowed in such a situation.
So the police won’t enforce the law but won’t mind if you do, thank you very much. How very libertarian. But imagine the potential for trouble once some eager citizens do indeed start “arresting” and man-handling Muslim women in the process. Can you smell riots, particularly considering the high percentage of Muslim population in cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam? Very few Muslim women in the Netherlands actually wear either the burqa or the niqab but just you wait until infidels touch a modest Muslima in public.
Someone – either the politicians or the police – needs to pull their finger, because otherwise the Netherlands finds itself in the worst of all worlds: the government is shown to be both illiberal and ineffectual, the law enforcement is unaccountable, citizens are left to dangle, and Islamists get emboldened in the face of the pathetic kaffirs.