The decision to ban Islamic veils by a few European governments has been promoted as non–racist for a number of perfectly plausible reasons.
In Belgium, for example, they are a very bureaucratic state, they do find proof of identity very important, so the argument about preventing concealment of identity made sense.
When I moved to Belgium, I found that to be officially recognised as being a resident, I had to post my name on my letterbox at the entrance to the block of flats, and then have a policemen come and visit to make sure that my name was there and I really did live in that flat. This is surprising given that taxes are mostly administered locally there, and that you only get to pay tax when it’s confirmed you’re a resident; it’s as though the locals put all kinds of things in the way to discourage that. Identity, and proof of identity, is very important to the Belgian system.
In France, the argument to ban the veil is presented as the French taking sides in an internal Islamic debate. For example Fadela Amara, a French minister, is an Islamic feminist, and she has very strong, and very sensible, opinions regarding the fascism that underlies the extremists who abuse the religion. She is very much in favour of banning the veil.
But recent events in Holland make it clear that these reasons can be used as excuses to create the ban. The VVD wishes to form a government, but their coalition is short of the necessary seats. So they’ve come to a provisional agreement with the extreme right, and the policy they’ve agreed to enable that agreement is the introduction of a ban. This makes clear that the Dutch ban, at least, presuming it happens, will be put in place for racist reasons.
Which brings me back to the French. Sarkozy has carried out some quite nasty racist policies, such as the expulsion of Roma. This policy is so much against European principles that the European Union is taking the French government to court over this policy. There are other policies from Sarkozy that stink of racism, although none appear quite so starkly bigotted as this expulsion.
Now, a while ago, I had an argument with an old polical friend who stated, starkly, that the reason the ban was being introduced in some European countries was simple racism. I challenged her over this at the time. What’s happened in Holland now convinces me she was right, in part at least: a major motivation for these bans is racism. In all cases, there seems to be some kind of political alliance which also supports the ban, but I now accept that the bans would not be enacted if racism was not one of the motivations: I was wrong.