On Wednesday, August 1, hundreds gathered in Copenhagen to protest a new ban on the wearing of face veils in public. Passed by the center-right government on May 31, the bill was introduced to protect Danish values. Opponents say the bill infringes on freedom of religion and expression.
Denmark joins France, Austria, and Belgium in enforcing a national ban on full-face veils. Other countries such as Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland also have partial bans on full-face coverings. While many of these countries have instituted these laws in the name of security or protecting country customs and values, these bans have undeniably racist, discriminatory, and misogynistic undertones.
The Danish law forbids the wearing of full-face veils in public, which can include garments such as the niqab, balaclavas, face masks, ski masks, and fake beards. While the law does not mention the niqab or burqa explicitly, the police will have the discretion to determine whether particular garments violate the ban. Those who break the law can incur a fine of $157, with repeat offenses carrying higher fines or a jail sentence of up to six months.
Søren Pape Pulsen, Denmark’s Justice Minister, has called Islamic full-face coverings “disrespectful” and “incompatible with the value in Danish society.” Marcus Knuth, of the ruling party Venstre, says the niqab and similar dress are “strongly oppressive.” With such comments coming from Danish public figures, it is difficult to see the ban as anything other than a “veiled” attempt to target Muslims and immigrants. In fact, the same day the ban went into effect, the first person charged was a woman wearing a niqab; she had gotten into an altercation with another woman who had attempted to removed her face veil.
In response to the ban, several niqabi women have founded the organization, Kvinder i Dialog (Women in Dialogue), to encourage Muslim women to enter into dialogue with the rest of the Danish public. The group hopes to dispel stereotypes and misconceptions about women who choose to wear the niqab. Such stereotypes include the assumption that women are forced to wear niqabs or head scarves, that they do so because they hold radical beliefs threatening to society, and that their male relatives prevent them from working or going to school.
Islamophobia and xenophobia are on the rise in Europe. In line with this trend, Denmark’s government has adopted various anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies, including tightening asylum and immigration rules. Earlier in May, the government classified Muslim-majority immigrant communities as “ghettos” and subjected their members to mandatory training in Danish values. In 2017, the government passed another controversial law requiring asylum seekers to hand over valuables in exchange for staying in Denmark.
The Danish government’s attempt to control what it means to be Danish is exclusionary, biased, and racist. As part of these efforts, the face veil bans are particularly oppressive toward Muslim women. It leaves these women in the unconscionable position of having to choose between their faith and their ability to move freely through Danish society. If Danish values include taking away people’s freedom, then this ban is very Danish indeed.