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MUSLIM WORLD: Sweeping support to ban full Islamic veil in Western Europe as France votes on Burka ban, survey shows

July 13, 2010 |  7:33 am

_42394435_burqas_203ap Get the burka, the head-to-toe Muslim veil, off the streets.

That's the message from large majorities in numerous Western European countries as French parliamentarians gear up to vote on Tuesday on a controversial proposed bill that would make it illegal for Muslim women to wear the burka in public places, a new report suggests.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center in April and May this year, support for banning the burka is especially high in France, where a whopping 82% are in favor of outlawing it in public places such as schools, hospitals and government offices, while just 17% are opposed to such measures. 

But the study also indicates that the garment, which has been the subject of much heated debate and controversy in Europe, is becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany, Britain, and Spain, where 71%, 62% and 59%, respectively, of those surveyed endorsed burka bans similar to the proposed French law in their own countries. 

Americans, on the other hand, remain strongly opposed to such a law. Only 28% of those surveyed in the U.S. were in support of a burka ban while 65% disapproved.

Majorities of all different age groups in the four Western European countries surveyed (France, Britain, Germany, Spain) expressed support for getting burkas out of public places, but the desire to ban it was especially high among those age 55 and older, the study found.

"It's unpleasant when you can't see the face of the person you are looking at or talking to. I think it's scary when they walk around like that in the streets of Stockholm," 96-year old Elsa, long since retired, told Babylon & Beyond in the Swedish capital.

NA-AY510_FRPOLL_D_20090622174315 Another passer-by, a woman in her late 60s, said that total face-masking in public places -- whether a clown's mask or a burka -- is "repugnant" while expressing concern over claims by some that the face-covering black veil is a tool used by  fundamentalist men to repress women. 

In terms of political ideology, those on the right in the majority of the countries surveyed were overall more likely than those on the left to endorse a burka ban, although the study still found widespread support for such a law across the political spectrum. 

In Paris, one communist lawmaker reportedly compared the cloak to "walking coffins" while another from President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party stressed that women who wear the burka must be liberated -- even if it's against their will.

Security and the garment being an alleged symbol of repression were two of the main arguments when a representative from Sweden's conservative nationalist political party The Sweden Democrats explained to Babylon & Beyond the reasoning behind the party's support for a burka ban.  

"We are in favor of a ban for full-covering veils," media spokesperson for the Sweden Democrats Mattias Karlsson said. "It's a symbol of far-reaching Islamism and a totalitarian political ideology that's against equality between the sexes and advocates violence. It's like putting the responsibility of men's instincts on the women."

But Erik Ullenhag, party secretary for Sweden's Liberal People's Party, which is part of the current center-right governing bloc, said that his party was against any legislation against clothing, although he pointed out that the black cloak might not be the most suitable piece of clothing to wear in certain professions. Teaching, for example.

"We don't want a burka ban," he said. "People should decide for themselves what they want to wear. The burka can at times be an expression of a very patriarchal structure but we're against laws against clothing."

-- Alexandra Sandels in Stockholm

Photos: Recently published research suggests that large majorities in several Western European countries are in favor of banning the full-covering Islamic veil commonly known as the burka. Lower image: Two women, one of them wearing a burka, strolling in downtown Marseille, France. Credit: The Associated Press

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