[h1]Spain debates plan to ban burqas in public spaces[/h1]
Spain's Parliament will debate a proposal Tuesday to ban women from wearing Islamic veils in public, but the ruling Socialist Party vowed to vote against the measure that could lead to a law outlawing burqas and niqabs.
The Spanish proposal follows debates in several other European countries on possibly banning face veils that show only a woman's eyes, as nations like France and Belgium struggle to balance their national identities with growing Muslim populations.
In Spain, the leading opposition Popular Party put forward the proposal to support women's rights and prevent Muslim women from being forced by husbands to wear the veil.
But analysts see it as an opposition ploy to build strength amid economic turmoil and dismal growth prospects, particularly since no one has been able to cite any place in Spain where women routinely wear the veil.
That has not stopped a handful of Spanish towns and cities from banning burqas and niqabs in municipal buildings, including in the second-largest city of Barcelona in June. The nation of 47 million has about 1 million Muslims, but most arrived in recent decades from northwest Africa where the burqa is not common.
"This has been used politically in a search for electoral support," said Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Commission of Spain. He said he last saw a woman wearing a burqa in Spain 10 years ago on Marbella island, but she could have been a tourist. The only woman he knew who regularly wore one lived in the southern city of Cordoba and died about a decade ago.
The issue nevertheless remains an emotional touchstone, and the nonbinding resolution being voted on Tuesday was already passed by the Spanish Senate in June with little fanfare.
At the time, Justice Minister Francisco Caamano said that garments were "hardly compatible with human dignity."
But the government opposes legislating a ban, as that could force women who wear them to make a difficult choice: Go out in public and break the law, or stay home all the time.
"We want to avoid putting women who live in this kind of situation in a dual jail," said Eduardo Madina, secretary general for the ruling Socialist Party in the lower house of parliament.
The Popular Party's Jose Luis Ayllon has countered with an appeal for votes in the name of "the dignity and equality of all of the women in Spain," saying the use of the veils "oversteps religious symbolism."
Florentino Portero, a history professor at Spain's National Open University, said the nation isn't ready for a debate already in high gear in nations like France and Belgium because Spain hasn't experienced the same scale of Muslim immigration that has shaken up society in those nations.