A new law banning the burqa comes into force in Belgium on Saturday. The law has been approved with overwhelming support by both houses of parliament, a rare display of unity in this otherwise divided nation.
Belgium is now the second country in the European Union after France to implement a burqa ban. The law has found unanimous support among all the political parties, a coup in this normally divided nation.
Peter DeDecker from the Flemish separatist party, NVA, believes that the burqa ban will help preserve fundamental Western values.
"I think we have to defend our fundamental principles of the enlightenment - men and woman are equal in all aspects," DeDecker told Deutsche Welle. "And for also safety reasons - you don't know who's behind that textile. They can carry anything with them. People feel unsafe."
As of Saturday, any woman wearing the face-covering burqa or niqab in public risks a fine of 137 euros ($197) or up to seven days in jail.
There are only 270 women who wear the veil in Belgium, which has a Muslim population of 400,000. Mustafa Kastit, an imam at the main mosque in Brussels, questions whether its makes sense to legislate against such a rare practice.
Kastit worries that the law could alienate Muslims who already feel like they are being singled out on religious grounds.
"It risks stigmatizing the Muslim community even more, and it risks heightening this climate of fear, of Islamophobia that we see spreading across Europe and in all Western civilizations," he said.
Eva Brems, a member of the Green Party, was the only parliamentarian who voted against the burqa ban. She views the law as the consequence of growing multicultural tension.
"It's not a matter of increased Islamophobia, it's about a tension in society with Islam and multiculturalism in general that tries to find a way to manifest itself and people feel that they should be allowed to be intolerant vis-à-vis a more radical Islam," Brems told Deutsche Welle.
Brems believes that the ban is a clear violation of human rights and hopes it will be overturned.
"I am convinced it is a violation of human rights," Brems said. "I feel I am supported in this opinion by most of the human rights community. I hope it will be challenged and annulled."
But even if there is a legal challenge here, the trend is spreading across Europe. A burqa ban is now being prepared in the Netherlands and similar legislation is in the pipeline in Italy and Spain.
Author: Vanessa Mock, Brussels / sk
Editor: Andreas Illmer
For the first time in Europe-wide elections, candidates are running for the office of President of the EU Commission. But the election campaign could be a dead end, warns DW's Christian Trippe.
Yulia Tymoshenko is yet to clearly lay out her plans for the future, but there are signs she may intend to move into the Ukrainian president's office. Experts say she may just have a chance of succeeding.
Sources in Ukraine say armed men thought to be pro-Russian have stormed a Crimea military post and put the barracks under siege. No shots were understood to have been fired, with Ukrainian troops barricaded inside.
The 28th edition of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival is now underway, drawing tech, music and film innovators and fans from around the world to Texas. Edward Snowden and Neil Young are set to be event highlights.