With the number of jihadist terrorists in Europe rising, and a concurrent increase in the number of women involved in Islamist terrorism and recruiting, Austria’s centrist government passed a bill in May to prohibit all face coverings in the public sphere. The measure, which carries a fine of €150, includes a ban on clown makeup, ski masks, and even hospital masks worn on city streets; but it is clearly the face-covering garments of Muslim women – the niqab and burqa – that are the law’s real targets. The so-called “burqa ban,” which went into effect Oct. 1, makes Austria the fifth European country to outlaw the wearing of face-coverings in public, and the fifth to do so on the basis of national security concerns related to Islamic dress. France, Belgium, Latvia, and Bulgaria already have such laws in place, and partial bans are in effect in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Spain.
Now other countries are starting to consider instituting comparable laws, despite ongoing protests from Muslim and many rights groups. Even Morocco, which is 99 percent Muslim, recently banned the sale and manufacture of burqas, citing safety concerns even though a small minority of Moroccan women wear face coverings. Reasons for such bans internationally range from similar security concerns to uneasiness about the oppression of Muslim women and their safety navigating in garments that restrict their movement and their vision.
Crimes have also been committed by women and even men disguised by burqas and niqabs: in 2009, a robber dressed in a burqa ran off with £150,000 worth of Rolex and Cartier watches from a jewelry shop Oxfordshire, England; a year later, two men, also in burqas, raided a French bank and escaped with €4,500; and when a non-Muslim Melbourne couple staged a robbery in August, the woman wore a burqa to conceal her identity.
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