Islam's rapid rise in Europe is beginning to face some stiff opposition. France and Belgium are seeking to ban Islamic veils that cover the face. Lawmakers said the move will help preserve European culture.
From big cities to small towns, Islam's growing influence in Europe is obvious. Now lawmakers in some European countries are seeking to ban one of the most divisive symbols of Islamic identity: the face veil worn by many Muslim women.
Belgium is set to become the first European country to ban the Burqa and other Islamic garb that completely covers a woman's face and body.
Supporters of the ban said this clothing has no place in Europe.
"Wearing a burqa in public is not compatible with an open, evolved, liberal and tolerant society, which respects human beings for what they are," said Belgian lawmaker Daniel Bacquelaine.
France is also preparing to ban Islamic veils that cover the face in public places. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has called the veil repressive and an assault on the dignity of women.
Muslim leaders in France said this view is "Islamophobic" and they have supporters on the political left who share their view.
"Bans like this do more harm than good," said Reed Brody, European press director for Human Rights Watch. "They violate the rights of women who choose to wear the veil, and they do nothing to help women who feel they're compelled to wear the veil.
The Netherlands may be the next country to propose a ban on veils. Women in Belgium who violate the ban would face fines and possibly jail time.