THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A right-wing Dutch lawmaker wants women jailed for wearing the head-to-toe Islamic robe known as a burqa, calling it a "symbol of oppression."
Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party has nine lawmakers in the 150-seat lower house of Dutch parliament, filed a proposal Thursday to make wearing a burqa in public a crime punishable by up to 12 days jail.
"The burqa and niqab are a symbol of oppression of women," Wilders told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He said burqas and the niqab — a full-faced veil with only a slit for the eyes — hindered integration of Muslim women into Dutch society and also posed a security risk.
An Islamic community spokesman, Ayhan Tonca, called Wilders' proposal "totally out of proportion" and accused him of seeking to broaden a rift between Muslims and the rest of Dutch society.
Last November, the Dutch government said it was drawing up legislation to ban burqas, but that administration was defeated in elections the same month. The new centrist coalition of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has no plans to implement a burqa ban, meaning Wilders' proposal has little chance of becoming law.
Few women wear the burqa in the Netherlands, but the debate over whether to outlaw it underscores a drift away from traditional Dutch tolerance and unease with the growing influence of Islam in the country. About 6 percent of the Dutch population of 16 million is Muslim.