German minister proposes partial burqa ban

Interior minister says ban on face veils would apply to “places where it is necessary for society’s coexistence”.

May Day in Germany
Anti-Islam sentiments have been growing in Germany with the rise of the far-right movement [EPA]

Germany’s interior minister has proposed a partial ban of the burqa, the full-face veil worn by some Muslim women, as a nationwide debate rages over integration.

Thomas de Maiziere said on Friday that the face veil does not belong in Germany society, where more than four million Muslims live, calling the proposed ban a “preventive measure”.

The minister said the ban would apply to “places where it is necessary for our society’s coexistence”, including government offices, schools and universities, courtrooms, demonstrations and while driving vehicles.

He said the proposed ban was “not a security issue but an integration issue.

“Of course, the issue of the full veil stands for the question which role certain branches of Islam play in Germany,” he said.

The proposed ban comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government attempts to address public fears surrounding last year’s record influx of nearly 1.1 million migrants and refugees, most from predominantly Muslim countries.

It also echoes a controversial decision by several French towns in recent weeks to outlaw burkinis, the full-body Islamic swimsuit, at a highly sensitive time for relations with the Muslim community following a series of attacks in France.

Inside Story – French ‘burkini’ ban: secularism or security? 

‘Hardly any chance at integrating’

De Maiziere did not say when he would put forward a draft bill to bring the ban into law, acknowledging that the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in the ruling coalition, had reservations about the move.

But he indicated that banning the face veil under certain circumstances – as opposed to the blanket ban favoured by the hard right of Merkel’s Christian Union bloc – would be more likely to win approval in parliament.

In an interview with a regional newspaper this week, Merkel underlined her objections to the full-face veil.

“From my point of view, a woman who is entirely veiled has hardly any chance at integrating,” she said.

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Heated debate

Bilkay Oney, a Turkish-born integration expert from the SPD, said the proposed ban was too blunt an instrument to fight radicalisation.

“In France they long ago outlawed the burqa but it apparently couldn’t stop a single terror attack. However, I don’t like the mentality behind a burqa, either – it is a piece of clothing that no emancipated woman can accept,” she told the newspaper Die Welt.

Oney said that rather than regulating what clothing women wear, Germany would be better served by expanding its integration efforts.

“You have to convince people to no longer want [the veil]. We must ensure that Muslims and migrants emancipate themselves but that will take time.”

News website Spiegel Online was more forceful in its opposition, saying that German conservatives “apparently have so little faith in the attractiveness of values such as individual freedom and equal rights that they think bans are necessary”.

READ MORE: Far-right AfD says Islam not welcom in Germany

De Maiziere’s position on the veil represents a compromise with conservative parties in advance of two pivotal regional polls next month in which the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party looks set to make strong gains.

Just last week he had rejected a call from conservative state interior ministers for a sweeping ban on face veils, saying: “We can’t ban everything that we reject, and I reject the wearing of the burqa.”

De Maiziere made the comments on August 11 as he announced tough new anti-terror measures after two attacks in Germany last month claimed by the the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (or ISIL, also known as ISIS).

The measures include a controversial proposal to strip ISIL fighters of their German nationality, as well as to speed up deportations of convicted criminal migrants and boost police resources.

The right-wing AfD in particular has attempted to link the record influx of migrants and refugees last year to an increased threat of attacks – an argument Merkel sharply rejected this week on the campaign trail in her home district.

“The phenomenon of Islamist terrorism by IS is not something that came to us with the refugees – it was already there,” she said, referring to the threat posed by homegrown fighters.

Source: News Agencies