Veil row in Italy after woman fined by cops

May 5th, 2010 - 12:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Novara (Italy), May 5 (IANS/AKI) A political row has erupted in the northern Italian city of Novara after police fined a Muslim woman 500 euros for refusing to remove her full-face covering burqa.
According to details released by police, the Tunisian woman, Amel Salah, and her husband, Ben Salah, were stopped by police Friday.

Amel was asked to remove her veil, but her husband refused to allow her to expose her face on the grounds that such an act would violate their Muslim beliefs.

“I cannot take off my veil in front of you, because you are two men. I am sorry,” she reportedly told police.

This was Italy’s first such fine and made possible after Novara introduced a controversial by-law in January banning clothing which prevented immediate identification in public.

A 1975 Italian law to combat domestic terrorism forbids any mask or clothing that makes it impossible to identify the wearer, while allowing for some exceptions.

Novara, which is 50 km west of Milan, is run by the anti-immigrant Northern League.

Novara mayor Massimo Giordano, who was re-elected in 2006 with a hefty 61 percent of the vote, defended the city by-law introduced on the back of the 1975 law to combat terrorism.

“I signed the ordinance for security reasons, but also to make those who come to live in our city respect our traditions,” said Giordano, cited by the Italian daily, La Repubblica.

Italy’s largest Muslim organisation, the Union of Italian Islamic Communities and Organisations (UCOII), said women should be free to choose. However, the body’s president did not support wearing the full burqa.

“The UCOII many times has expressed its support for a fully-veiled face for women as well as respect for Italian law, which recognises the rights of everyone,” said UCOII president Izzedin Elzir.

“We’re for women’s freedom and against any veil that hides the face,” Elzir told La Repubblica.

Although he opposes the burqa, which leaves only a slit in the veil for the eyes, Elzir, an imam in the city of Florence, stressed it was important to distinguish different types of traditional Islamic dress for women that allow the wearer varying degrees of exposure.

The Tunisian woman was fined one day after Belgium’s lower house of Parliament voted to ban burqa-type Islamic dress in public.

The bill must still be approved by the country’s Senate. In January, Denmark’s centre-right government called the burqa as out of step with Danish values, but held off on a ban.

The French government is pressing for similar legislation, and at the weekend a German member of the European Parliament said a ban should be enforced across the European Union.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said the burqa “is not welcome” in France, and questions have been raised about the constitutionality of any ban.



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