A Danish woman was deported from an airport in Brussels, Belgium on Sept. 16 after refusing to take off her niqab. The niqab is a garment that covers one’s whole face except for the eyes, and it has been banned by Belgian law since 2011.
When the woman, whose name has not been released, refused to take off the veil covering her face after arriving at Brussels airport from Tunis, Tunisia, airport officials forced her to go back to Tunis. The Belgian law in question bans “the wearing in public of clothing that partly or totally covers the face,” as stated by the European Court of Human Rights, or ECHR, when they upheld the rule in July 2011.
On one hand, workers such as airport security personnel have the responsibility of making sure every passenger who passes through is not a threat to the country, and that they are who they say they are. On the other hand, the freedom of religious expression is a basic human right that should be available to any citizen of the world, no matter where they go.
Although European countries like Belgium, France and the Netherlands had good intentions behind their ban of wearing full-face religious garments, such as niqabs and burqas, in that it was supposed to make women feel more unconstrained and closer with each other, their method of execution is erroneous.
Banning religious women from wearing certain items can be seen as more of a personal attack rather than personal freedom, especially if these women have been used to dressing a certain way for a large part of their lives.
The ban is also not a uniform law in Europe, because different countries have different stances on what religious freedom and religious expression means. A woman should be able to decide for herself whether she should wear a certain garment.
There must be a better system in place to allow people to freely express their religious beliefs, while also being able to be identified by law enforcement and security. There could be special practices put in place, such as letting only female guards check the identity of women wearing niqabs and burqas. Additionally, no one should be banned from wearing any religious garment if they are just walking down the street and going about their business.
The two Muslim women who brought the case Belcacemi and Oussar v. Belgium in front of the ECHR argued that they did not feel comfortable going outside without wearing their niqabs and that they felt their religious freedom was being restricted. Countries should work together to encourage the safe practice of every religion.