German conservatives call for a ban on Muslim face veil in public areas. On Friday, 19 August, interior ministers convened in Berlin, Germany, to present a declaration on fortified security measures in the country.
Some proposals were that police presence should be increased as well as upped surveillance organized. Another which proved to be more controversial is to ban Muslim women partially from wearing facial veils in schools, universities, registry and government offices as well as while driving. This particular suggestion comes at a time when Germany is still suffering from the wounds left by various terrorist attacks attributed to the Islamic State that has left the nation shaken and paranoid. It is also a response to the influx of immigrants, especially those from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, who continue to flee their conflicted countries to seek asylum in Europe.
Arguments in favor of the partial ban
Several arguments have been put forth in order to realize the proposed ban, a move that many German officials have been contemplating for a while. The main ones are related to security, social integration and women’s rights and liberties. Many feel that having one’s face completely covered apart from a slit for the eyes, could potentially obstruct security measures.
The idea is that individuals should show their identity in public spaces to reduce the risk of anonymity in an incident. It is easier for the authorities to follow protocol and perform their duties when they can trace who was where what they were doing and why. It is similar to the principle of helmets being prohibited at a bank. Particularly during a time when Europe is apparently under attack by Islamist extremists, authorities are determined to reduce all potential security risks as much as possible.
Moreover, German conservatives view the burqa as a threat to social unity. During a press conference held by members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere spoke openly about why he feels that Germany should follow some of its fellow European countries in banning the Muslim attire. According to CNN, Maiziere claimed: “it does not fit into our society for us, for our communication, for our cohesion in the society…. This is why we demand you show your face”.
Berlin Interior Minister, Frank Henkel, is also in support of the proposal stating that the full-face veil does not “fit in” with Germany’s understanding of a tolerant and free society nor does it conform to their view of women. It appears that right-wing German officials perceive all types of veils that cover women’s faces and entire bodies as a threat to the social harmony Germany is trying to maintain in spite of recent conflict and violence targeting innocent German citizens. Simultaneously, this cohesion of which they so proudly speak is a euphemism for a growing sense of a sort of neo-nationalism Europe is cultivating to not only fight against terrorism but immigration in general.
Arguments against the proposed ban
Members of Germany’s centre-left Social Democratic Party are in opposition to the partial ban, fearing that it will further intensify xenophobia in the country, which is a lived reality across western Europe that makes it more difficult for immigrants who seek asylum in the continent to integrate into society. Justice Minister Heiko Maas believes that debates on security and the burqa should not be intertwined as they are separate discussions.
It is important to consider that one of the motives for which the CDU is calling for the ban is that in the coming month regional elections will be underway in the country and they are losing support in the face of the Alternative for Germany, anti-immigration party, who believe that Islam is incompatible with the constitution. Since Chancellor Angela Merkel had defended her stance on pro-immigration, many conservative Germans have been losing faith in the party in one of the most critical times in German history since the Cold War.
Furthermore, religious activists feel that the implementation of such a law would lead to stifling human rights and freedoms, such as those to choose one’s religious affinity. It will also oppose the right to expression as Muslim women should be entitled to take pride in and express their identity as they wish.
Burqa bans in other parts of Europe
France is the first European country to have banned the burqa in public. Initially, it was banned in schools in 2004 but then fast forward to 2011, French President at the time Nicolas Sarkozy placed a total public ban on full-face veils saying they were “unwelcome” in the country.
In 2011, Belgium followed suit, making a law stipulating that a woman caught wearing a veil can be jailed for up to seven days or forced to pay a 1 378 euro fine. Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands also did away with the veil, but the ban in these countries are restricted to certain regions and cities.
On a continent that emphasises democracy, the respect for the rights of all people and their liberties, this wave of xenophobic and anti-Islamic discourses that are visible all over the media and political spaces are perpetuating a kind of neo-nationalist propaganda that strives to engrave a self-entitled, othering mentality that could plummet the world into its third war.