New Zealand prime minister says a Muslim veil is no excuse for discrimination

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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key says Muslim women wearing veils should not face discrimination, after two Saudi women were reportedly ordered off buses due to their attire.

New Zealand has had a long history of racist attitudes toward non-whites.

Saudi diplomats in New Zealand had raised concerns with the government after two separate incidents in Auckland in which women were told to get off buses because they were wearing full-face veils, the Dominion Post newspaper reported.

In one case, a Saudi Arabian student was left crying on the street after the bus driver shouted “Out!” then shut the doors on her and drove off.

“I think where practical, and on both sides, people should respect others’ culture and cultural beliefs,” Mr. Key said.

“There are practical reasons why sometimes a burqa won’t be applicable − banks for example − for security reasons from time to time they will enforce that. But for the most part we are a multicultural society and we should respect other’s cultural beliefs.”

France became the first country in Europe to apply a ban on the wearing of full-face coverings, including the Islamic niqab and the burqa, doing so in April.

New Zealand’s largest bus operator, NZ Bus, which was involved in both Auckland incidents, said two drivers had been sent on counseling programs but were not dismissed because their actions were not religiously motivated.

“Both drivers claim it’s not religious, but they genuinely have a phobia of people wearing masks, hence why we have not dismissed them,” NZ Bus general manager Jon Calder said.

The Saudi Arabian consul general in Auckland declined to comment.