The Danish government has generated widespread protests after its approval and enforcement of a law that will criminalize full-face coverings such as the Burqa and Niqab in the country. While the government has suggested that the ban is to revert the oppression of women, protestors have accused the government of specifically targeting its Muslim population, and violating women’s right to dress however they choose.
Protestors wearing full-face coverings marched from the city district of Nørrebro to Bellahoj police station outside of the main city area. According to the Guardian, one protestor stated that the purpose behind the demonstration was to “send a signal to the government that we will not bow to discrimination and a law that specifically targets a religious minority.” Another protester also told The Independent that “as opposed to what they [the government] claim is the purpose of the ban, we are now being criminalized, marginalized, excluded from society.”
The Danish state’s ban reflects the growing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments in the Scandinavian nation. As evidenced above, this ban comes at a time where the government has enacted several discriminatory measures specifically targeting the Muslim population. Such discriminatory measures have seen the government banning immigrant ‘ghettos’ and enforcing ‘re-education’ programs for young children from immigrant backgrounds. The recent banning of full-face coverings only reinforces the targeting and alienation felt by the Muslim population. Under the justification to uphold ‘Danish values,’ this marginalization has the capability to further fuel a division within in society by creating an us vs. them mentality. Especially for Muslim women, the counterproductive banning of full-face coverings reinforces the physical distinctions between a non-Muslim woman and a Muslim woman.
The ban was proposed and approved by the Danish government back in May of this year, where the centre-right coalition justified it so as to uphold the country’s secular values. Under the law, police will have the power of asking women to remove their face covering, and or to leave public spaces. Police officers will also have the ability to fine women who choose to not follow these orders, with fines ranging from 1,000 Danish krones for first-time offenders to 10,000 krones for a fourth offense.
The legislation comes at a time where other European states such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom tightens its restrictions on immigration, and anti-immigrant sentiments become strongly affiliated with mainstream media. Although these anti-immigrant sentiments have been largely correlated with anti-Muslim attitudes, what should to be addressed is the disparity in terms of the number of Muslims currently residing in Denmark – which only accounts for 5 percent of the total population, while Muslim women who wear full-face coverings on a daily basis account for only 0.1 percent.
Denmark’s plans to ban full-face coverings infringes upon the democratic openness that the liberal state is known for. Although the government has asserted that the ban is to prevent female oppression that forms from wearing full-face coverings, there is obviously a political agenda attached to it. With the rise of right-wing parties in Denmark, this tone-deaf justification reflects the growing anti-immigrant sentiments of politicians masked in the ironic ‘intentions’ of protecting women’s rights. Restrictions on a women’s choice of clothing violates not only a woman’s freedom of expression, but also strips a woman of their identity. If the Danish government truly desires to uphold Danish ‘values’ they must find other options that are less intrusive and do not encompass ethnic or religious prejudice.