YOU CAN'T BAN THE BURKHA, SAY EUROCRATS

EUROPE backed the burkha yesterday by ruling that the controversial Muslim veils should not be banned.

MPs from 47 countries voted unanimously that outlawing the full-face veils would deny women “who genuinely and freely desire to do so” the right to cover their faces.

The Council of Europe’s resolution is not binding on members of the group, which includes all European countries except Belarus, as well as Turkey.

But the vote by the human rights group threatens to torpedo bans planned in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain as it could open governments up to costly legal battles.

Last night the ruling was condemned as “out of touch”.

UKIP leader Lord Pearson said: “This vote just highlights the disconnection between the appointed politicians of the Council of Europe and the peoples of Europe.

“They refused to represent the people’s wishes, preferring to hold them in contempt.” Tory MP Philip Hollobone said: “It just goes to show how out of touch European politicians are with popular opinion.

“I have no doubt that the majority of the British public are against the wearing of the burkha and the full-face niqab veil.”

Belgium was set to become the first European state to ban the burkha after the country’s lower house of parliament voted unanimously in favour of outlawing it. An impending vote in the upper house would make it a criminal offence to wear “clothing that hides the face” in a public place.

The Council of Europe also branded the Swiss bigots for their ban on the construction of Islamic minarets. Last year Switzerland banned the building of the minarets – towers used to call Muslims to prayer – after a nationwide referendum.

Politicians claimed the minarets represent militant Islam. Switzerland is home to 400,000 Muslims out of a population of 7.5 million.

A third of Britons back an outright ban on the burkha and two-thirds believe it should be illegal to wear the full-face covering in places such as banks and airports, a poll found.

The survey of 1,000 people this year also found that 60 per cent said schools should be allowed to prevent teachers wearing burkhas.

UKIP has called for a total bar on the Islamic dress, claiming the burkha and niqab are symbols of an “increasingly divided Britain”.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain has labelled French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s opposition to the burkha as “patronising and offensive”.

The French leader said: “The burkha is not a sign of religion, it is a sign of subservience. We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.”

Yesterday’s resolution was approved by MPs including a British legation with Lib Dem Mike Hancock and Labour’s Lord McIntosh. The human rights group acknowledged that the veiling of women was seen as “a symbol of subjugation of women by men”.

However, the council ruled a general ban would impede the rights of women. “There should be no general prohibition on wearing the burkha and the niqab or other religious clothing,” the council said.

But the council added that a woman should not be “compelled to wear religious apparel by her community or family” – and that doing so constitutes a crime. And the council also left the door open for targeted laws against the wearing of the burkha.

It said that legal restrictions may be justified “for security purposes or where the public or professional functions of individuals require their religious neutrality, or that their face can be seen”.

The council’s ruling was part of a report on Islam, Islamism and Islamophobia voted on in Strasbourg yesterday. The group also called on European governments to educate Muslims, their families and communities on their human rights and to encourage them to take part in “public and professional life”.

Founded by Sir Winston Churchill in 1950, the Council of Europe is the continent’s human rights watchdog and oversees the European Court of Human Rights.

It is now made up of 47 members and is quite separate from the European Union.

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