Belgium Moves Forward on Veil Ban

Belgium's lower house voted on Thursday to move forward with a nationwide ban on wearing veils in public that cover the face and body, bringing the country one step closer to being the first European nation to have federal restrictions against the traditional Muslim garments.

The vote passed through the Chamber of Deputies by a 136 to 0 vote, with two abstentions. Belgian officials have cited security and morality as their reasons for the proposed ban.

Last Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International issued a statement against the proposed Belgian law, saying that it would be a breach of international law.

"A general ban on the wearing of full face veils would violate the rights to freedom of expression and religion of those women who choose to express their identity or beliefs in this way," said Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International's interim secretary general.

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"At the same time the Belgian authorities must make sure that all women who chose to wear the full veil do so without coercion, harassment and discrimination."

The proposed Belgian legislation echoes the growing difficulties many European nations are facing in dealing with Islamic cultural influences, which many nations say erode their cultural identity.

In November 2009, Switzerland passed a sweeping ban on the construction of minarets, or mosque spires, in the country. Similar debates have followed in Germany.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is currently engaged in a campaign to publicly ban Muslim veils, which he said are "not welcome" in the country. Issues of constitutionality have currently stalled the legislation.

Europe is currently home to some 53 million Muslims, making up around 7 percent of the continent's population. The European Union has previously considered adding Turkey to its ranks, which would increase the union's Muslim population by nearly 76 million.

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