As soon as I read that some countries were considering banning the burqa or niqab, I was pretty sure I knew what would happen to the women concerned if such a ban went ahead. Sure enough, a news item in today's Dom-Post confirmed my fears. A Google search showed that this incident was reported around the world, and some of these reports gave additional information.
An Italian law that bans people from covering their face in public - whether it be with a veil or motorcycle helmet - has been in place since 1975. In January a statute under this law banned clothing preventing identification of the wearer near "sensitive" public buildings in Novara, Italy.
On Friday a Tunisian-born woman was stopped by police outside a Novara post office. She was walking with her husband to prayers wearing a black niqab, which covers the wearer's face but leaves the eyes exposed. She was fined 500 euros.
We don't know what the woman thought - she was not quoted in any of the news items. But in some of them, her husband was. He has lived in Italy for ten years. He said he would respect the regulation, "but would now confine his wife at home because the Koran forbade other men from seeing her face." ((The Al-Jazeera report did not include this response.)
Where such convictions hold sway, women can't win, and a ban will mean they simply pay twice - once for transgressing the new law, and again for being caught in a religious catch-22. If they can't go out with their faces covered, they won't be permitted to go out at all. As far as the law and the neighbours are concerned, the problem will be solved. The burqa will no longer offend European sensibiliities, feminist or otherwise. Don't get me wrong - it certainly offends mine. But in terms of actually helping the women concerned lead a less constrained life, a ban like this is worse than useless.