Spain: SOS Racismo criticises Catalan municipal council burqa bans as "electoralist"

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On 28 May 2010, Lleida became the first city in Spain to ban the wearing of burqas or face-covering niqabs in municipal buildings. El Vendrell municipal council followed suit on 11 June, as did Barcelona and Tarragona on 14 June, meaning that three out of four Catalan capitals are now imposing the measure, a version of which that sought to impose the ban in the streets and was narrowly defeated in the fourth capital, Girona. Commenting on the heated debate over a measure that is believed to affect less than ten burqa-wearing women in Catalunya, social scientist Gemma Galdón Clavell notes that the measure is part of a "continuum of policies to monitor and control public space" in three towns that have been leading the way in this direction (Lleida, El Vendrell and Barcelona), and contributes to making the far-right's arguments part of the mainstream debate through measures "proposed by the right and the extreme right but finally implemented by centre-left and centre-right local governments". In El Vendrell, the far-right Plataforma per Catalunya party leader Josep Anglada claimed paternity of the measure that it has advocated since 2007, adding that "This does not end here". The Partido Popular linked the measure to immigration, "Our goal is for the problem of immigration to be discussed", whereas Jordi Hereu, Partido Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) mayor of Barcelona, spoke of "identification and security" reasons, by noting that "motorcycle helmets" and "ski masks" would not be allowed either, as garments that cover one's face, although why someone would wear them in this context is unclear.

El País, 11,15-18.6.2010; The burqa as a symptom, EU Observer,

The burqa and electoral profitability:
Statement from SOS Racismo Catalunya

SOS Racismo warns of the danger that false debates such as [the one about] the prohibition of the burqa entail. This is in response to the growing number of measures to ban the burqa that were approved by Catalan town councils, with the latest announced by the Barcelona city council.

From SOS Racismo, as an an organisation for the defence of human rights from an anti-racist standpoint, we wish to report that:

This is a false debate that was created for the sole purpose of attaining electoral gain.
It does not reflect a real social concern, it has only gained prominence as a concern among the population when politicians, alongside the media, placed it on the agenda of current events.
Far from defending the rights of people, what these measures do is to worsen the situation of vulnerability of a sector of the population.

They fuel racism and the criminalisation of the migrant population. They also place us in danger of a social rift.

The seriousness and irresponsibility of political parties and town councils which have submitted proposals without a prior in-depth analysis. They only seek to be in the lead in a frenetic race to be the standard-bearers of heavy-handedness towards the immigrant population without worrying about its consequences. There are also instances of incoherence within the same political party.

The lack of answers from the political groups and town council governments to which we have expressed our position about this situation. This silence represents their lack of interest for social concerns that do not bring votes.

In this context, we demand:

That political parties and institutions cease involving themselves in any false debates that endanger coexistence and social cohesion.

Political responsibility and commitment not to make an electoralist use of immigration and to struggle actively against racism. We feel that in a moment such as this one, it is important to enact the agreements signed in the National Pact for Immigration.

That local, autonomous community [regional, expression used to encompass the different statuses that apply to them] and state governments promote real measures to defend equality of rights.
That civil society and the media claim a responsible and serious debate as their own.

From SOS Racismo, we express our deep concern for the speed with which the discourse for the curtailing of rights is spreading, the case of the prohibition of burqas like that of not allowing registration in the municipal register for immigrants in an irregular situation.

We warn of the dangers that it means for our society to accept this discourse, and even to praise it. There is a need for political parties, institutions, the associative texture and society at large to construct a firm response before the incipient culture of restriction of rights that affects all of us, the people who form part of Catalan society.

SOS Racismo-Catalunya, 14 June 2010
[unofficial translation by Statewatch]
The original is available at:

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