Passport

8 in 10 Germans Want to Ban Burqas From Public Spaces

Germany is inching ever closer to France's ban on burqas.

Participants protest against continued violence in Gaza at a demonstration organized by left-wing activists on July 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. At least 730 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have been killed since the offensive between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip began 17 days ago. One day prior to the demonstration, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted for the launching of an investigation into potential violations of human rights during the conflict.
Participants protest against continued violence in Gaza at a demonstration organized by left-wing activists on July 24, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. At least 730 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have been killed since the offensive between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip began 17 days ago. One day prior to the demonstration, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted for the launching of an investigation into potential violations of human rights during the conflict.

Five years after France banned the wearing of full-face veils in public, Germany isn’t far from doing the same.

A startling poll released on Friday by public broadcaster ARD showed 81 percent of Germans support banning the most conservative types of Islamic veils from schools and government institutions. The garments they want banned are the burqa, which covers women from head to toe, including the face, and the niqab, which does the same except for a narrow slit instead of mesh square to see out of.

Questions about the place of conservative Islam in secular European society have roiled France and Germany in recent months. On Friday, France’s highest court ordered a small coastal town to suspend its ban on burkinis, a full-body swimsuit worn by conservative Muslim women, in a test case that’ll probably apply to other towns.

Germany is a few years behind its neighbor when it comes to regulating how conservative Muslims appear in public, but the results of Friday’s poll may encourage German Chancellor Angela Merkel to finally push for such legislation.

Last week, German Interior Minister (and close Merkel ally) Thomas de Maiziere stated his support for a ban on full-face veils in public.

They do “not belong in our cosmopolitan country,” he said last Friday, adding that it was “not a security issue but an integration issue.” He called for banning it from courtrooms, the civil service, and schools and universities.

His comments came one day after Merkel promised him her “full support.” They also echoed her position that a ban would help Muslim women better assimilate, rather than somehow strengthen security.

As Merkel said in an separate interview last week, “In France they long ago outlawed the burqa, but it apparently couldn’t stop a single terror attack.”

Germany welcomed more than 1 million immigrants in 2015, most of them coming from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq — all Muslim-majority countries wracked by conflict.

Fears that Germany’s generous policy toward asylum-seekers have inadvertently opened the door to terrorists have run high after a recent spate of attacks. In July, an Islamic State sympathizer from Afghanistan swung at passengers on a commuter train in central Germany with an ax and knife, injuring five people. In the same month, a Syrian asylum-seeker who had also pledged allegiance to the terrorist group blew himself up outside a concert, injuring 12.

Merkel’s warming position toward a partial burqa ban may also reflect a desire to stay on the side of popular opinion, as evidenced by Friday’s poll.

An important faction within Merkel’s party, the Bavarian counterpart of the Christian Democratic Union, has roundly criticized the chancellor’s refugee policies from the start. If Merkel were to defy them on as widely a supported idea as banning burqas, she could run the serious risk of an intraparty revolt.

Photo credit: ADAM BERRY/Getty Images

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola