Berlin (CNSNews.com) – A local court has ruled against a German Muslim’s appeal to be allowed to wear a full-face veil to school, at a time when a series of businesses and schools in the country have banned the wearing of face-obscuring apparel.
Now, talk of a ban on full-face veils such the burqa is being discussed at a national level, with interior ministers of the ruling Christian Democrat Union/Christian Social Union bloc backing the move.
The proposal began after federal Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere introduced a campaign against veils such as the burqa, stating that wearing them “has no place in our country and … does not comply with our understanding of the role of women.”
“We want to show our faces to each other and that is why we agree that we reject this,” he said. “The question is how we put this into law.”
Maiziere is proposing that a ban should be enforced in schools, universities and while driving.
Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann, a member of the CSU, expressed similar sentiments.
“It is clear that the burqa isn’t the right article of clothing for the population in Germany,” he said, adding that it was time to determine “how [a ban] can be achieved.”
The proposals came after Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged the burqa was a problem, saying that “a completely covered woman has almost no chance of integrating herself in Germany.”
However, Merkel has since said she rejects an outright ban.
Although a ban faces opposition from Merkel and must be debated in parliament, many local business and schools already prohibit veils.
The issue is being discussed as a critical election season looms, with the ruling CDU/CSU facing a strengthened far right force in the form of the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) party.
In Germany, authorities lack official, up to date figures. There are estimated to be more than 4.7 million Muslims in the country but as of yet, there are no official statistics estimating how many of the women among them cover up.
Last January a woman wearing a niqab – full-body garb that only leaves eyes visible –was refused admission to a bank, with staff citing the bank’s ban on motorcycle helmets.
Such businesses argue the bans are not designed to discriminate against Muslims or religious freedom, but are among security restrictions that apply to all visitors.
This week a German Muslim woman in Osnabruck went to court after a school refused to let her to attend while wearing a niqab. The court ruled in favor of the ban, and the student will not be allowed to attend school with a niqab.
The issue of Muslim women covering up is also a matter of debate in a small but growing number of other European countries.
Belgium banned full-face veils in 2011, prohibiting clothing that obscures a wearer’s identity in public places. The Netherlands has approved a proposal to implement ban on full face veils in government buildings, schools, hospitals and on public transport. A Swiss ban came into force this year, with fines for offenders set as high as 9,200 euros ($10,400).
France was the first European country to implement a ban, with the law coming into effect in April 2011. A more recent focus is on the “burkini” – a two-piece swimsuit that covers the entire body except for the face, hands and feet, which several French jurisdictions have banned.
Speaking against the burkini, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls argued that it represents “the creation of a counter-society that is based on the subjugation of women.”
Debate over the controversial ban, which allows police to fine women on beaches, intensified when a group of officers publically forced a beach-going woman to remove her clothing on Tuesday.
The French high court is set to rule on the issue in the near future.
French human rights group Human Rights League (LDH) is appealing after a lower court ruled the ban as “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder. LDH argues that the ban is a “serious and illegal attack on numerous fundamental rights” including freedom of religion.
The French Interior Ministry released a study saying that, according to police estimates, niqabs were being worn by fewer than 2,000 women in the country – a small fraction of the nation’s estimated 7.5 million Muslims.
Opponents say that a ban on the burqa and similar garments will not solve anything, but simply increase tensions between communities.
A documentary by sociologist Agnes De Feo interviewed around 150 women in France and found that, rather than stop wearing the veils, some women stayed home while others had traveled to Syria and Iraq to join extremist groups.
See related story: