Belgian move to ban scarves, crosses

The Belgian Government has called for a ban on the headscarf worn by Muslim women and also students in government schools. The ban also covers prominent display of the cross by Christian students.

The number of Muslims in the European Union varies between six and seven millions among a population of 180 millions. This may increase to about 250 millions after the proposed entry of 10 states later this year. Except for Cyprus, Muslims in these states are a minority.

After France, the largest Muslim population resides in Germany with some three million Turkish and North African Arab population. This is followed by Spain, which also has a sizeable North African Arab population. In Germany, `hijab' is banned in schools in seven of the 17 federal states. The Bavarian State Government has argued that the ban is necessary because the scarf and veil have become "a symbolism of fundamentalism and extremism''.

Britain has a Muslim population of some one and half million who mainly come from Pakistan and Bangladesh. So far, the British authorities have refrained from enacting any Islamic anti-headscarf legislation.

Inspired by the recent French move, Belgium is proposing that students and civil servants should be banned from wearing the scarf in public-owned and managed institutions. This comes amid an emotive debate over the issue across Europe. The Belgian Home Affairs Minister, Deale, was criticised by some of his colleagues recently for declaring that he supports the ban not only in schools but also in all state institutions, including hospitals and government offices.

Belgium's Muslim community of 350,000 mainly consists of the North African Arabs and Turks. According to some centre-right politicians, the real figure may be near the half million mark due to the dramatic rise in illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Two prominent senators have argued that the ban is necessary to combat what they call Islamic sexism — women in some cases are forced to wear the scarf and veil.

Politicians are divided over the issue and the debate will gather further momentum during coming elections to the European Parliament in many European Union member-States.