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Demonstrators protest a ban on the wearing of face veils at the Black Square in Copenhagen, Denmark on August 1, 2018. Photo: Davut Colak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Hundreds of veiled demonstrators gathered in Copenhagen earlier this month to protest against Denmark's "burqa ban," a law enacted in May that allows police officers to fine women who wear the Muslim niqab or body-length burqa in public areas.

Between the lines: Denmark joined France, Belgium, Bulgaria, Austria and the Netherlands as European countries that have instituted some form of a nationwide ban on face veils, per the WashPost. Justifications for the burqa ban range from it being a matter of female dignity to a matter of public safety, as the wearer's identity would be concealed in the event of a security threat. But critics say the ban is being used as a pretext for discrimination against Muslims amid growing resistance to Europe's liberal immigration policies.

The backdrop: There are several types of headscarves worn by Muslim women, but all are generally considered to be symbols of modesty and privacy, per the BBC.

  • The hijab commonly refers to a headscarf that covers the head and neck but keeps the face clear.
  • The niqab is a face veil that leaves the eyes clear.
  • The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils, covering the entire face and body and leaving only a mesh screen for the wearer to see through.

By the numbers: France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, became the first country to implement a nationwide ban in 2011.

  • At the time, there were 4.7 million Muslims living in France, accounting for 7.4% of the population, according to The Conversation.
  • Research documents used to support the law stated that 1,900 women wore burqas in 2011, comprising .04% of the French Muslim population.
  • But a report from the U.K.'s Channel 4 found that the original number was actually 367, or .001% of the Muslim population, and that the internal security services were asked to count again because the figure was deemed too low.

This raises the question of why legislators would bother to pursue a ban that affects so few people. At the time France's law was enacted, then-president Nicolas Sarkozy declared what has since become a major point of contention among those involved in Europe's immigration debate: that certain Islamic practices are fundamentally incompatible with Western values.

"The problem of the burqa is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burqa is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom."
— French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011

The big picture: Legally-mandated assimilation has become a trend in Europe, with the latest example being Denmark's plan to force "ghetto" children to undergo lessons in Danish values for 30 hours a week. It's a response to the challenges faced by countries who are seeing a large influx of immigrants cross their borders — and one that could become more mainstream given the rise of far-right populism across the continent.

Go deeper

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

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  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
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Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."