Italy may be on its way to joining France and Belgium in banning women from wearing veils that cover their faces in public. A parliamentary commission just passed a draft law which would prohibit Muslim women from wearing the burqa, niqab or any other face-covering headwear, expanding older security legislation designed to keep people from wearing masks in public. The bill, which has the support of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition, will go to a parliamentary vote after the summer recess.
If passed, the bill would fine any woman caught in violation of the law somewhere between $200 – $425, with much heavier penalties for those who forced women to veil. This is similar to the French burqa ban, which went into effect earlier this year to much protest from the Muslim community. As in other parts of Europe, very few Muslim women choose to veil, and many see the legislation, not as an act of support for oppressed women, but a symbol of European antagonism toward visible displays of Muslim piety. Another often-cited example is a 2009 Swiss referendum which banned the construction of minarets.
As usual, politicians supporting the draft took a high moral rhetoric, saying that they were saving Muslim women from “submission.” But it’s highly ironic for the party of Berlusconi, a leader so notoriously sexist that Italian women took to the streets last February to protest his misogyny, to suddenly take up a women’s rights stance. It shows just how transparent these bans can be, when right-wing conservatives become deeply concerned with Muslim women’s freedom.
“This topic continues to be a sort of criminalization and media dramatiztion. In Italy there aren’t even 100 women who wear the niqab and not even one who wears the burqa,” explained Roberto Hamza Piccard, spokesman for the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy. He added that the only likely outcome of the law would be to isolate devout Muslim women in their homes.
The Parliament is expected to vote on the draft in September. We’ll keep you posted as the process evolves.
Photo from Ranoush via flickr.