[JURIST] The Dutch government [official website] announced after a cabinet meeting Friday that it will introduce legislation [press statement, in Dutch] to ban the Muslim full-length burqa [Wikipedia backgrounder] veil as well as other face coverings like ski masks in public places "as soon as possible" after the country votes in a national election scheduled for Wednesday. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk [official profile] told Dutch media that the legislation would be brought in for security reasons and to promote the integration of Dutch society. She has noted in the past that the government cannot enforce a total ban under current law because of religious freedom statutes. No European country currently imposes a comparable total prohibition on Muslim veils, although headscarves and other religious symbols [JURIST news archive] have been banned in French public schools and German public school teachers are prohibited from wearing them. Dutch Muslim leaders immediately criticized the move as promising an unconstitutional act targeting Muslims, with the leader of Dutch Muslim organization CMO [backgrounder, in Dutch] saying it would be a "big law for a small problem" as he estimated that only some 30 Dutch Muslim women wear burqas.
Verdonk, known domestically as the "Iron Lady" for her tough anti-immigration initiatives, first floated the burqa ban [JURIST report] last year, and a majority of lawmakers endorsed a ban [NOS report] in December. Muslims currently make up about 6 percent of the Dutch population; the country has traditionally been distinguished by its openness, but in recent years it has become much wary of immigrants, setting up detention centers for asylum-seekers, requiring newcomers to learn Dutch, and adopting a more vigorous deportation policy. Tensions rose in 2004 when outspoken Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh [JURIST news archive] was assassinated by a Islamic militant. AP has more.