The Experience of Face Veil Wearers in Europe and the Law.

Author:Lif, Diana
Position:Book review

The Experience of Face Veil Wearers in Europe and the Lazo, edited by Eva Brems, positions itself in the midst of a political, cultural, and intimately personal debate enveloping Europe over what is colloquially known as the "burqa ban." Since 2010, Belgium, France, and select regions of the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain have adopted laws prohibiting citizens from covering their faces with "disguises," "masks," and "costumes." Ostensibly, such bans are to protect the rights of all citizens and improve national security; in practice, they function to prevent practicing Muslim women from wearing garments such as the niqab. Brems takes care to note that these "bans are ... almost entirely based on outsider experiences and views. The same holds to a large extent for the academic debates on the matter and even for NGO positions." (1) It is within this space that the work operates. Brems states that her purpose is "to fill a gap in the current literature discussing face veil bans: the gap of the insider perspective." (2) Brems is successful in her goal; the work gives voices to the individuals directly affected by the face veil bans, marrying their narrative with academic criticism of the bans.

Brems's work is divided into two parts. Part I presents and interprets qualitative data from former and current face veil wearers in Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Part II compiles and presents the scholarship of academics who are interested in the face veil debate--all of whom reject face veil bans, but on a variety of grounds, ranging from feminist analyses to application of international law. The work comes at a critical moment, as right-wing parties gain increasing representation in European government, and in the wake of politicized tragedies such as the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels that have reignited debates over immigration, restrictions on religious freedom, and national identity across Europe.

Through inclusion of insider narratives in Part I, Brems challenges many of the assumptions about niqabis that policymakers have advanced for the face veil bans, but that lack empirical support. For example, the Commission to Study the Wearing of the Full Veil, charged with advising the French Parliament, interviewed two hundred "experts" and only one niqabi. (3) Filling this gap in the empirical data and asymmetry in the public discourse serves two purposes: for scholars, to "improve the accuracy and pertinence of their arguments," and for policymakers, to illustrate that "[p]olicy making on the basis of unchecked assumptions and in disregard of reality may--and in the 'burqa ban' experience does--result in policies that are ineffective, counterproductive and at odds with the fundamental rights and values they claim to advance." (4) Although Brems hypothesizes that the availability of research on niqnbi perspectives would not have changed the outcome of the ban in Belgium because of the speed and consensus around its passage, the Danish case illustrates the effect...

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