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Denmark Bans the Niqab, and Media Reacts Exactly as Expected

On August 1, a ban on wearing face-covering attire in public took effect in Denmark, which thus joins France, Austria, and Belgium in propagating a complete prohibition on the niqab and burka. (Several other European countries forbid veils in certain locations, such as schools, hospitals, and public transport.)

The website of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR) provided a thorough overview of the new law. Among its provisions: if a police officer suspects that a woman wearing niqab is being subjected to “negative social control” -- i.e., living with a Stone Age father or husband -- or if she says something to indicate or suggest as much, the officer may decide whether there is reason to look into the question and/or offer her help and support. Also, Danish authorities have specified that the legislation should be enforced “with due consideration to the person's integrity.” If a woman in niqab is about to enter a mosque, the officer may choose to leave her alone. If an officer is in doubt as to how to handle any niqab-related situation that presents itself, he or she should ask a superior what to do.

Denmark's parliament would appear to have gone to considerable trouble to try to keep from making this new dispensation more problematic than necessary. But the head of the policemen's union, Claus Oxfeldt, is concerned that the guidelines aren't detailed enough. He worries that if one of his officers makes a mistake, it could lead to “disaster” not only for that officer “but also for the Danish police and Denmark as a society.” This is, alas, an understandable concern: the Danes still remember how a couple of pages of Muhammad cartoons published in a newspaper a few years back led to worldwide Muslim riots, not a small number of deaths, and efforts by virtually every Islamic government on Earth to intimidate the Danish prime minister into punishing the cartoonists and editors involved and placing limits on the freedom of Danish citizens to criticize their religion.

DR didn't just publish an overview of the new ban. It ran an article about a young woman named Ayesha Haleem. Well, at least she looks young around the eyes. In addition to her niqab, she wears black-rimmed eyeglasses that make it look as if Nana Mouskouri has converted to Islam. Otherwise it's hard to say anything about her appearance. What we do know about her is that even though there's now a 1000-kroner fine for walking around in public in niqab, she vows never to take hers off.

DR's article was accompanied by a video of Ayesha and her husband walking their child in a stroller. “I will pay the fine,” Ayesha said in English, “but I will not take out my niqab.” She meant, of course, take off her niqab. She and her husband, we were told, have lived in Denmark for almost six years. Apparently she can't speak Danish, at least not even well enough to conduct a brief, simple media interview. And her English is shaky. “It's not fair,” she said, referring to the fine, “because we will be paying this fine from our own savings.” As opposed to what?