Latvia has banned women from wearing the Islamic full-face veil in public. The new law is likely to come into effect by 2017 — and targets 0.0002 percent of the country's population. Three people, to be precise.
Latvia's Justice Minister Dzintars Rasnacs claims the law has less to do with the number of women wearing the veil, but rather about ensuring prospective immigrants respect the country's values.
"A legislator's task is to adopt preventative measures," he said. "We do not only protect Latvian cultural-historical values, but the cultural-historical values of Europe."
Latvia has agreed to accept 776 refugees over the next two years as part of the European Union's efforts to resettle refugees.
According to former Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga, those wearing a niqab or burqa "at a time of terrorism" presented a "danger to society."
"Anybody could be under a veil or under a burqa," she said. "You could carry a rocket launcher under your veil. It's not funny."
Indeed, it’s not funny at all.
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In placing the ban, Latvia becomes the third country in Europe to do so after France and Belgium.
In 2004, France’s highly controversial law forbade students in state-run schools to display any form of religious symbols, including veils, crosses or Jewish skullcaps. In 2011, France forbade concealment of people’s face in public.
The same year Belgium banned full-face veils.
Hanna Kozlowska, a reporter for the Quartz, very aptly called the veil most controversial item of clothing, as she explained the history of controversies regarding the Islamic veil across Europe.
Though none of the other European countries have enforced any such bans so far, the restrictions are not unheard of. In 2010, the Italian town of Novara imposed restrictions on clothing that impedes identification, including a ban on "burqinis", a modest swimsuit preferred by many Muslim women. After the deadly attacks in Europe in 2015, Lombardy in Italy also approved a ban on wearing the Islamic veil and burqa in hospitals and local government offices.
So did Barcelona in 2010 in the city’s municipal buildings. The Swiss canton of Ticino also voted to institute a ban on full-face veils in 2013.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 18:1, proclaims: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
As such banning the veil, head scarf or the burqa is a breach of human rights and liberty. It is, in fact, quite hypocritical of countries that speak loudly of human rights and tolerance to ban an item of clothing that holds religious and cultural importance to such a large number of people in the world. It is also foolish to associate the religious garb with terrorism or any other menace to humanity — as foolish and ridiculous as to take a woman wearing a mini skirt or shorts to be a person of low morals.
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