Bulgaria Bans Face Veils

by IMMANUEL AL-MANTEEQI October 5, 2016

The country of Bulgaria is home to 7.2 million people, about twelve percent of whom are Muslims. Having a southern border with Greece and Turkey, Bulgaria  is one of the primary gateways that migrant refugees used to get into mainland Europe.

Macedonia used to be another major gateway to Europe. However, due to popular fears concerning the massive influx of refugees, the Macedonian land route was recently closed, as a razor-wire border fence was erected across many parts of the Macedonian-Turkish border. Eyes then turned to the Bulgarian route to mainland Europe. Indeed, the Bulgarians were reportedly arresting 100-250 illegal refugees on a daily basis and sending them back to Turkey. Fearing a great surge of migrants from Turkey, Bulgaria recently built a massive border wall with Turkey.

Not only do Bulgarians and other Europeans fear that the intake of more refugees will  have untoward economic effects, and that the immigrants will not assimilate well with the native Europeans, but they are also worried about jihadi terrorists who  might be slipping through the cracks whilst posing as refugees. Indeed, recent reports show that most of the jihadis who carried out the November 13 Paris attacks, which left 130 people dead and more than 360 others injured, entered Europe through common migrant routes-posing as refugees.

Bulgarians, like many of their European counterparts, have naturally become frustrated with the massive influx of refugees. It seems that this was at least a partial motivation for why, just a few days ago, the country decided to ban face veils. The ban does not only apply to Bulgarian citizens, but even to foreigners travelling in the country. Furthermore, those who disobey the  law will be fined £662 and lose their (state) benefits, if they are receiving them. The law also applies to places of worship like mosques. However, the law reportedly makes room for exceptions, as "covering the head, eyes, ears and mouth will only be permitted for health reasons, professional necessity and at sporting and cultural events."

This is a great move on the part of Bulgarians since face veils pose security risks. All of Europe-and indeed all of the First World-should follow suit here. For justifiable reasons of security, face veils should be banned. . Indeed, it is for security reasons that even ISIS, the most notorious terrorist organization in the world, has reportedly banned face veils in the Islamic State.

France, the country which boasts the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, was the first European country to ban face veils in 2011. Following the French ban, there have appeared many populist movements across Europe calling for an all out ban of face veils. The Netherlands and Belgium, for example, have recently banned face veils as well.

The recent Bulgarian ban on face veils will no doubt be decried as Islamophobic by many pundits and commentators. However, it is important to realize that a ban on face veils, and hence the burka, is not religiously discriminatory. Such a ban would not just prohibit Muslims from covering up their face, but it would also ban members of other faiths, or none, from doing so. People wouldn't be allowed to walk around wearing masks, for example.

Whereas it could be plausibly argued that laws banning the burkini, such as those previously instituted in some French cities, do violate  religious freedom, it cannot be plausibly argued that the banning of face veils is a violation of religious freedom. Burkinis did not pose a security threat, and it seems that the only putative reason for banning them is  that some see them as symbols of Islamism. Burqas and face veils, on the other hand, are not just symbols of Islamism, but they pose a real security threat. As Krasimir Velchev, a senior lawmaker for the ruling GERB party in Bulgaria, said: "The law [banning face veils] is not directed against religious communities and is not repressive."

Laws that ban face veils are discriminatory against Muslims only if  (i) they allow non-Muslims to wear face veils or coverings but do not permit Muslims to wear them, and they (ii) they do not have adequate secular reasons for their institution. But neither of these necessary conditions are met in the case of the laws banning face veils-i.e., (i) and (ii) are both false; no European laws banning face veils allow non-Muslims to wear them, and there are secular reasons for instituting these bans-viz., reasons having to do with security. Therefore, it follows that these laws are not discriminatory against Muslims. So the charge that laws banning face veils are religiously discriminatory against Muslims are without basis.

It should also be noted that hardly any Muslim authorities, save for extreme fundamentalists, believe that Muslim women have an obligation to wear face veils. Furthermore, from a historical perspective, in early Islam face veils were certainly not obligatory for Muslim women. It can truthfully be said that face veils have nothing to do with Islam as practiced during the time of Muhammad and his companions.

Banning face veils makes eminent sense just from a commonsensical security standpoint. But it makes even more sense for Europeans to institute such bans in an age when Islamist militants are perpetrating attacks all over Europe and trying to cross its borders.

Therefore, Bulgaria's ban on face veils is a welcome development. It is a law that sends a message to Islamist extremists who want to totally subjugate their women, and it is  in the clash of civilizations that Europe is currently engaged in.

Immanuel Al-Manteeqi is a lecturer in the Humanities. He has written articles for CounterJihad.


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