Religious attire still causing controversy in Europe

By staff writers
April 26, 2007

The Dutch and Italian governments have come out against the wearing of some religious clothing in public.

In the Netherlands five schools, situated in what is known as the Dutch "Bible Belt", have become the first in the Netherlands to be allowed to ban the wearing of headscarves and other religious symbols.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency a spokesperson for the Dutch Commission for Equal Treatment explained: "Normally schools won't be allowed to ban the headscarf."

“These are specialised (Christian) schools...If someone wants to attend the school, they are asked to sign papers agreeing with the religion, identity and rules in these schools"

Several Muslim children attend the five Christian schools.

Last year the Dutch government agreed a total ban on the wearing of Muslim burqas and face veils in public, citing security concerns. The ban has yet to come into force.

Critics claim that the policy is likely to alienate the country's one million Muslims who make up 6% of the Dutch population.

In Italy Interior Minister Giuliano Amato has also presented guidelines on religious veils.

"Types of clothing that cover the face are not acceptable because they prevent the identification of the person and are an obstacle to the interaction with others" he said.

The guidelines are set out in a 'Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration' which is not legally binding, but intended to set common values for minorities who migrate to the culturally Roman Catholic country.

The charter was issued by Italy’s new centre-left government and was supported by ‘Ucoii’, an Italian Islamic association. But Nour Dachanm, its leader, was also quick to point out his disappointment.

"The veil is never humiliating for the woman who wears it. We recognise the culture and the religion of this country, but Islam too has given a lot to Europe and maybe this could have been mentioned".

In 2004 France, which has the largest Muslim minority, banned the wearing of the head scarf in schools.

In the UK the British Airways Cross row in January 2007 and controversies about the rights of school girls to wear Islamic dress have captured the headlines.

The Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that some forms of Islamic dress can be a "mark of separation". The Leader of the House Jack Straw also publicly said he would prefer Muslim women to remove their veils during his constituency surgery meetings.

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