Muslims protest at Belgian embassy in Dublin

On Saturday, a diverse group of Muslims staged a protest outside the Belgian embassy in Dublin. The crowd were demonstrating against plans by the Belgian parliament to ban the public wearing of face veils, a move which will have a significant impact on the Muslim population.

Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Uzbekistan, Turkey and Somalia were represented outside the embassy, however the most vocal of the small crowd were Irish converts.

(Audio: Belgian Embassy Protest)

{saudioplayer}Belgian Embassy Protest.mp3{/saudioplayer}

Although the assembled protesters were diverse in both nationality and political and religious views, they were united by a fierce opposition to the proposed Belgian ban and a fear of what future consequences such a ban might bring.

Saturday’s protest was primarily organised by, a self described “empowerment” organisation, who “aim to give power to the Muslim community through a system of media monitoring, political lobbying and grass-roots community and institutional activism.”

In the week prior to the protest, MPAC had circulated an email warning those planning to attend not to bring banners featuring “calls to violence or trouble”. The email also cautioned against the burning of flags except the “Zionist flag since we do not recognize the Zionist state… although it would not be relevant to this protest…”.

However, the mood at the protest was largely calm and jovial. Protesters carried posters with slogans such “Bigots of Europe” and “No to secular extremism”.

Although the protest passed peacefully, Liam Egan, an Irish convert who is one of the leaders of MPAC, contacted Politico to express his dissatisfaction at the conduct of some of the Gardai on the day.

Mr Egan said, “We've been informed that Gardai were asking people for their names and taking reg. numbers of cars. One protester asked why and was simply told that because he had spoken he had to give his name or leave or risk being arrested on a public order offence... This does seem rather odd behaviour on the part of the Gardai considering the fact that I spent some time yesterday going through a list of dos and don'ts with them, not to mention the fact that I've never seen them take names at any other protest.”

“The disconcerting message this sends out is that attendance at a rally or protest may result in unwanted attention by the Gardai, given that the Muslim population is largely immigrant this is tantamount to intimidation and silencing. It effectively strips the right of such people to peaceful protest. It is an outrage.”

The proposed law does not specifically ban the the burqa or niqab but calls for the penalties for those who appear in public with their face veiled or concealed.

The proposal was unanimously accepted by the Belgian Chamber of Representatives at the end of April and is awaiting approval by the Senate. If passed Belgium will be the first country in Europe to make the wearing of the burqa and niqab illegal.

In addition to Saturday’s protest in Dublin, protests were held in various other cities around Europe. The proposed legislation has also been criticised by Amnesty International who have branded it “an act of discrimination in itself".