A senior Belgium diplomat has been arrested for taking off the full-face veil of a Qatari princess after she asked him for directions, in a case that has highlighted difficulties in imposing the so-called "burka ban" in the country.
Jean-Marie Pire, who apparently specialises in protocol, went about removing the woman's niqab, a black full-face veil, when approached by her on the street in the Belgian capital, Brussels.
The 60-year-old diplomat, who did not know the identity of the wealthy royal, took offence to her clothing when she approached him with two other women last week, asking for directions.
"I said I don't talk to anyone if I can't see their face," Pire said, according to The Times. "With this reply, I wanted to make it clear that the veil is banned in Belgium," he added.
"Because the person asking me a question didn't seem to hear me, I lifted her veil. I know I shouldn't have done that, but what she did wasn't legal either!"
Belgium, along with France, banned full face-coverings in 2012, imposing fines for wearing veils.
Local officials have reportedly already given the unnamed woman a fine of around £115 for breaching the ban on face-coverings. She also faces up to seven days in prison for wearing the garment in public.
The woman, who has not been named, has made an official complaint to Brussels prosecutors, who may now charge Pire with assault.
She said she suffered cuts and bruises after her earrings were violently dislodged, along with her veil.
When Belgium first imposed the ban back in 2011 Britain's key Muslim civil society organisation said chances of a similar initiative implemented here in the UK are slim.
According to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) - a national umbrella organisation that aims to promote cooperation and consensus on Muslim affairs in the UK - it boils down to the tolerance woven throughout UK society.
“Implementing the burqa ban will not happen because the UK is a more open and inclusive society than the rest of Europe ... Multiculturism is a British institution and the whole nation wants to preserve it,” the MCB told The Huffington Post.
But, last month British Muslims launched a Downing Street petition to ban the veil in a call for the House of Commons to consider following the French example of forbidding women to cover their faces in public.
The petition was launched by Taj Hargey, an imam at the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, who called the face veil an “ugly tribal contraption” and “alien cultural monstrosity”.
"All of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have a duty to challenge the religious hardliners who have cynically exploited British traditions of tolerance and individual liberty to pursue their own twisted sectarian agenda imported wholesale from the Arab Middle East," he wrote in the Daily Mail.
"We cannot continue to accept the creeping Arabisation of Islam in the UK and consequent destruction of our cherished British freedoms. A stand must be made now," he concluded.
However, in a sign of varying attitudes in the UK, students, leaders and politicians alike campaigned to have a controversial ruling reversed in Birmingham following the decision by a college to ban Muslim students from wearing veils.
Birmingham Metropolitan College decided to reverse its decision after 9,844 people spoke out against the ban, branding it "a clear violation of a woman’s right to choose."Suggest a correction