AMSTERDAM – It’s easy to see why Fatima Elatik dislikes burkas. The Islamist
cloak of female chastity is in stark contrast to everything this young and
charismatic Dutch-Muslim politician represents. She nonetheless adamantly
opposes the new initiative to ban the garment, which the Dutch cabinet announced
“I’m no fan of the burka, but currently there are about 100 women
who wear it in this country. Banning it might make it more popular,” says
Elatik, an Amsterdam-born practicing Muslim of Moroccan descent.
years ago Elatik, 39, became district mayor of East Amsterdam, and one of the
best-known faces of the Dutch Labor Party.
Elatik is referring to an
announcement by the Interior Affairs Ministry about a bill proposing to ban most
face-covering gear in public. Offenders would be fined up to 390 euros. If the
bill, which is expected sometime this week, passes, The Netherlands would become
the third EU country to ban the burka, after France and Belgium.
so-called burka ban would attract attention and create the opposite reaction,”
said Elatik. She greets visitors to her office with a firm handshake and open
smile. “I believe some Muslim women would wear burkas just to make a statement
against the ban.”
Some plan to do just that, though not necessarily
Muslim women. On Saturday, Karin Dekker, a politician for the Left Green party,
used her Twitter account to call “on all women” to wear a burka as a sign of
protest should a ban materialize.
Researchers put the number of women
wearing face-covering garments in the Netherlands – where one million out of 17
million people are Muslim – between 100 and 400. Prof. Annelies Moors, a
sociologist from the University of Amsterdam, estimates that in 2009 there were
approximately 100 women who regularly wore the burka, and roughly 400 women who
occasionally wore one.
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Friction arising from cultural differences should
be heeded and solved, but through dialogue instead of legislation, says
“One of my favorite verses in the Koran reads: ‘We have created
you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one
another.’ The Burka stands between people getting to know each other. There is a
basis for debate and I know from experience that debate can be
Before passing into law, the bill must pass a vote in
parliament, where it may receive the support of the three coalition partners:
The ruling Liberal Party (VVD), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the
rightist Party for Freedom (PVV) headed by Geert Wilders. But it must pass the
Upper House. Earlier this year its members shelved controversial legislation to
ban ritual slaughter.
The ban on burkas is a central issue for the
anti-Muslim Party for Freedom and its leader, Geert Wilders. In 2005, parliament
passed his bill to ban the burka, but the bill was watered down after the 2006
elections. The new cabinet stated then that it would only be enforced to
preserve public safety.
In April, France introduced a law against
covering one’s face in public.
Muslim women in full-face veils, or niqab,
are now banned from any public activity including walking down the street,
taking a bus, going to the shops or collecting their children from
Belgium followed suit in July.
French politicians in favor
of the ban invoked “gender equality” and “dignity” of women. By contrast, Deputy
Prime Minister Maxime Verhagen denied the ban was on religious clothing, noting
it applied also to motorcycle helmets when worn in inappropriate
“Once submitted, this bill needs to be examined carefully by
legal experts and legislators to make sure it is constitutional,” said Elatik.
“In the meantime, I can tell you that my constituents don’t have a ‘burka
problem.’ People wearing ski-masks on the subway are pretty rare. What we
do have are job problems.”
Asked what she intends to do about the
proposed ban, she replied: “Nothing. Our legislation should focus on
those problems, instead of on populist issues which might lead to more
problematic bans in the future.”
Elatik is a member of the Jewish-
Moroccan Network in Amsterdam – a forum meant to promote dialogue between the
two groups. Dr. Hadassa Hirschfeld, co-founder of the network and former board
member, appears less dismissive of calls to limit the burka
“I think it’s a very complicated matter,” said Hirschfeld, a
historian and former deputy director of the Hague-based Center for Information
and Documentation on Israel (CIDI). “I understand that in our open society
people are not used to other people walking with their face covered. It doesn’t
encourage interaction, and by wearing it they are not participating in society.
On the other hand, we’re talking about 200 women who want to dress like that,
and it should be up to them.”
Ronny Naftaniel, CIDI director, said he
opposed a ban on burkas, but added that “there is potentially a security element
here: Authorities need to devise procedures that allow them to also monitor
people wearing burkas.”
One of the promoters of the Burka custom in
Holland among Muslims is Okay Pala, a spokesperson for the Dutch branch of Hizb
ut Tahrir – an international movement dedicated to establishing a Sharia-ruled
caliphate in Europe and elsewhere.
His reaction: “As a matter of policy we do not give out interviews to The
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