‘Radboud University should not uphold the burqa ban’

01 Aug 2019

OPINION - On Thursday August 1 the partial ban on face-covering cloths, known as the burqa ban, went into effect. Radboud University has made it clear that it fully complies with this ban. It would do the university well to carry out the message that it will not uphold this ban, says PhD student Emma van der Wateren (Astrophysics). She thinks it only serves to alienate people who are already underrepresented.

This burqa ban prohibits people from wearing Islamic veils, such as burqas or niqabs in government buildings, hospitals, schools and on public transportation. Those who do not comply, risk being sent away by the police and can even be fined up to 415 euros. Besides Islamic veils, the ban also applies to other face-covering clothing, such as motorcycle helmets and fully covering ski masks. Proponents of the ban state that it is not motivated by religious reasons, but is necessary for security reasons.

On July 25, Radboud University published a (Dutch) news article, which was also sent around in it’s weekly newsletter, informing students and employees about the ban. The article made it clear that anybody covering their face, can be asked to leave, risk getting the police involved and risk a fine. I was surprised by this message.

Progressive town

The city of Nijmegen is known to be a tolerant and progressive town. This is largely thanks to their student population, which traditionally is more left-wing. Surely, the Radboud University wants to remain a tolerant place, welcoming to all cultures and religions. By complying with the burqa ban, the university not only makes it impossible for an admittedly tiny group of people (it is estimated that only 200 to 400 women in the Netherlands wear a burqa or a niqab) to study or work at the university. It also risks alienating a much larger group of people, who are already underrepresented at higher education, people with a non-western background.

‘The burqa ban has no practical functionality at a university’

The Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU), which Radboud University Medical Centre is also part of, recently told het Parool  that their hospitals will not uphold the burqa ban. The NFU is of the opinion that it is not the hospital’s task to uphold this ban. Security will not ask women wearing a veil to leave and will not call the police. Radboud University can and should carry out the same message to their students and employees.

Personal contact

The burqa ban has no practical functionality at a university. Supporters of the ban state that it is necessary for a person to identify themselves for security reasons. However, when a woman wearing a burqa needs to show identification, she can simply do so in a private room with a female staff member, which has been a common practice in government buildings. Another often heard reason in support of the ban is the necessity to make personal contact between students and teachers. While it is true that wearing a burqa may hamper a student’s ability to learn and collaborate with others, they themselves will suffer most from this. The importance of them being able to freely enjoy higher education and meet with people with different backgrounds, trumps any disadvantages they might experience from covering up their face.

Martijn Gerritsen, spokesperson of the University, told the Algemeen Nijmeegs Studentenblad in 2016 that there have never been any problems with visitors wearing a burqa. If that is the case, then why is it necessary to spread the message that doing so is no longer allowed?

Not welcome

Radboud University is in no obligation to actively uphold this ban. By carrying out the message that it will, the university gives the impression of supporting it. While this may not be the objective of the message, students and visitors may feel they are not welcome because of their convictions in this institution, where people with a non-western background are already underrepresented. It would do the university well to take a stand and proclaim to tolerate students and employees from all cultures and religions, irrespective of their choice of clothes.

Emma van der Wateren is a PhD student. She works at the Astrophysics department and for ASTRON.

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