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MEP Koch-Mehrin calls for Europe-wide burka ban

DPA/The Local · 1 May 2010, 10:49

Published: 01 May 2010 10:49 GMT+02:00

Silvana Koch-Mehrin called the full-body veil an attack on the rights of women in a guest editorial in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

"I would like to see all forms of the burka banned in Germany and in all of Europe," wrote the politician, a member of Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP).

She called the burka a "mobile prison," saying that those who veil women take away their faces and therefore their personalities.

"The complete veiling of women is a blatant acknowledgement of values that we here in Europe do not share," she wrote.

She added that while she believed in the freedom of personal and religious expression, "that freedom should not be used to take away the public faces of people, at least not in Europe."

She said she found it unsettling to come across fully veiled women on the street, since she could not tell what their intentions were.

"I am not afraid, but it does make me anxious," she wrote.

Her commentary follows the approval by Belgium's lower house of parliament of a ban on the full-face veil. That decision has unleashed debate throughout Europe.

Story continues below…

It could set the stage for similar moves in other countries, as citizens fear that growing Muslim populations may pose a threat to their liberal and secular values. France is already considering similar legislation.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International said on Friday that the ban attempt was an "attack on religious freedom" and set a "dangerous precedent" that could impinge on the basic rights of women.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

11:15 May 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
While I strongly support the work of Amnesty International, I have to disagree with its position on this issue. I view this as primarily a public safety concern. No person, man or woman, should be allowed to interact with the public or use public facilities with their faces covered to conceal their identity. Men and women cannot walk into shops or banks wearing full ski masks, for instance, the reasons for which are obvious. The same rules should apply to the burka.
12:04 May 1, 2010 by BR549
Lately in the news, there seems too much debate over Islam and Christian beliefs and values. Even though I am a Christian, I don't fear people believing or practicing in other ways. However, it does seem rather hyporcritical to announce freedom and democracy and allow people to immigrate and then start telling them the "rules" have changed. Also, I think Immigration is rather new to most Western European countries and therfore, practice multi-cultiralism instead of true integration.
12:53 May 1, 2010 by whatzup
The ban makes perfect sense of course and it will be interesting to see whether this particular form of good sense will prevail in Germany and the rest of europe. Both european society and women themselves will benefit from a continent wide ban on the burka.
13:04 May 1, 2010 by zubuque
"She said she found it unsettling to come across fully veiled women on the street, since she could not tell what their intentions were. "

I wish burka was the only way to hide our intentions. Then, banning it would have solved most of the problems...
14:38 May 1, 2010 by cocovelvet
I have to agree with Mrs. Koch-Mehrin that the full veil somehow gives one a feeling of being unsettled. To see someone's eyes actually just bulging out at others in public sometimes poses curiosity as to whether there could be more to those eyes ...... its just difficult to built up at least that natural human contact or interaction with the wearers and others around them.

I don't want to sound anyhow intolerant , but there are simply certain things in life which when they are practiced or applied on certain situations or places, just don't fit. For instance, I would get used to the idea of seeing women in those burkas if I am somewhere in the middle east coz one could simply believe its part of their culture, but to see them in that same dress somewhere else looks a bit outrageous, probably coz its not the culture in other parts of the world....... and it can only bring that anxiety to those who are not used to seeing it or having it as part of their culture.
15:00 May 1, 2010 by Christine1
Perhaps a scientific method should be used in the decision to ban the burka. How many crimes have been committed in Germany that involve women wearing a burka?
15:10 May 1, 2010 by Eagle1
Isn't the purpose of a burka to dissuade the sexual stares of strangers? If that's the case, why would any fat or ugly women need to wear one? No guys want any part of them.
15:11 May 1, 2010 by mixxim
Christine you must be really naiive to think only women can wear the burka. Criminals including men can use this disguise and have already done so. Only recently a Nigerian rapist is believed to have left the UK using this method.
15:32 May 1, 2010 by twisted
I concur with mixxim...this is a safety and security issue...drop the religious aspect and look at it only as a safety and security issue. When I, as a business person, have someone enter my shop, I want to see their face. I recently was asked to remove my motorcycle helmet in a gas station when I went into pay. My face was exposed while I had the helmet on but of course, the clerk couldn't see my hair color which would help in identifying me should I have been a thief. It was not an unreasonable request in my opinion. Lawmakers should approach the issue, no as a woman's issue or a religious issue, but just for safety and security of the public.
15:34 May 1, 2010 by chrisma
Why as Europeans do we worry so much about offending others, whilst 'defending' our cultural beliefs, when you can be arrested and imprisoned for a month for a simple european greeting in Dubai?
15:42 May 1, 2010 by fair1day
Ban the birka. Its really simple.
17:42 May 1, 2010 by cheeba
It seems to me many people across Europe are very intolerant of diversity and want to force assimilation on anyone who is different, especially Muslims.

The main purpose in forbidding the burka is to express disapproval of a different culture. Nothing more or less.

Same with banning Minarets in Switzerland.

In France the authorities noticed young Muslim boys coming to public swimming pools wearing bulky surfer shorts rather than the speedo bikini type favored by the native french boys. The Muslims did so because their religon preaches modesty.

The authorities promptly banned the bulkier swimsuits, on the grounds of "hygene".

It seems to me all these bans have a lot more to do with plain old fashioned bigotry, rather than "arcitecture", or "public saftey", or "hygene".
19:11 May 1, 2010 by Kayak
There are intolerant people and ignorant people everywhere in the world. The only thing that doesn't change is change itself. A mate of mine in Sydney wrote the following. It gets to the heart of the matter. You pick your friends. Over to Steve...

"It's interesting. I was only talking about the burqa to a muslim woman

co-worker here. It's quite a convoluted cultural deal - the amount of

covering required is decreed by the local Imam, although in Oz some

chose the full covering, some part, some go for ordinary western

clothes. Underneath they are often wearing very provocative clothing. In

private they can wear whatever they like. The woman here was telling me

that she was at a wedding and all the women were covered up, and then

when the men were all gone they all stripped off, and all were wearing

extremely revealing clothing. The woman here said at first she was

showing more skin than any other woman in the place, but after they

removed their robes she was suddenly the most covered woman there."
21:03 May 1, 2010 by nepo77
Western culture drives on increasing individualization, worship of beauty, fashion, and fetish based competition. I can fully understand if a person See's uniformity and anonymity as a sense of freedom , and a tool to promote connectivity and unity with same minded people.

Of course these are things that have been falsely demonized in western culture.

As western culture is constructed to divide not unite.

I can imagine this expanded on any culture and also on men. The Key is that person desires to do this and isnt forced too -if thats the case i have no problem with it and law enforcement of how you should appear or look contradicts any kind of common sense for personal liberty. Im pretty sure it will be proven unconstitutional anyway.
21:56 May 1, 2010 by michael4096

I agree that a good chunk of society does not function with the burka and it should be 'banned'. Though, I'm sure clever people can come up with a compromise; after all ski masks are made to roll up when necessary.

Outside this, I believe a blanket ban would be counter productive. Given the choice, I think few would choose a burka unless it became 'cool' in an anti-establishment way.
23:06 May 1, 2010 by looshe
I would like to leave a comment that as I am not quite comfortable with the burka, I've spoken with many people who do wear it.

What everyone needs to know, that if a woman is wearing the burka, especially in Europe, is that she truly is doing it of her OWN free will and choice for her religion. I don't believe it's correct to impose others views on what a person would like to do for their religion. That's just hypocritical. If people are allowed to walk around half naked ( and even naked in some parts) They should also have the right to cover up!
23:21 May 1, 2010 by Prufrock2010
I would just like to see the face of the person who is going to blow me up with a bomb vest strapped under her burka. This is a common occurrence in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, so I am not being paranoid, xenophobic, anti-Islam or any other epithet that is sure to come. In civilized society there are rules. People cannot be allowed to interact with strangers on the street or on the metro or on buses or in shops or in public buildings wearing disguises that shield their identity. Religion be damned, this is the world we now live in.
00:06 May 2, 2010 by rebel4us
Ban them, and ban them for GOOD! Today's society and the way the world is..Everyone needs to be able to be INDENTIFIED....

Looshe, if they want to cover up..They can cover their hair ..but their face needs to be recognizable... beyond the shadow of a doubt. Where do people walk around 1/2 naked in todays Cities and streets??? Perhaps the Aborginies in Austraila do ..but they arent strapping bombs to themselves either.. and they arent walking into the local pubs....
00:35 May 2, 2010 by cheeba
It sometimes seems like Europe is going nuts.

At the very same time we hear these passionate cries that we must see faces in public for "security" reasons, we hear equally strong arguments against Google taking pictures in public for the internet based on "privacy" concerns.

Can it be that anti Muslim bigotry and anti American chauvinism inform both arguments to some extent?
00:44 May 2, 2010 by wmm208

I would just like to see the face of the person who is going to blow me up with a bomb vest strapped under her burka.

00:52 May 2, 2010 by wood artist
This is the age-old problem.

We support the concepts of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as long as it doesn't interfere with others. We also (theoretically) support freedom of religion, again as long as it doesn't take away the rights of others.

In this case, the dress in one religion is being called into question. In truth it would be no different than saying a Priest can't wear his collar, a very definitive article of clothing.

So, what's different? Two things.

1. The clothing is deemed "wierd" by westerners in countries where it is seldom seen. It flies in the face of western dress, where woman are allowed, or even encouraged to dress provocatively. So, unrelated to religion, there is a cultural clash, and the culture can present tremendous pressure. Just ask a high school student who doesn't conform to current styles.

2. This choice of dress is, unfortunately, attached to a religion that has issues in the western cultures. While the bulk of Islam is not radical, the public perception is much different. Why? I think the problem is largely based upon the concept that once September 11th happened, the rest of Islam did not rush to condemn the attack. That silence quickly became seen as acceptance or support for what had happened.

So, many in the world, rightly or wrongly, see Islam as a terrorist religion, and every subsequent attack helps to further that perception. So anything overtly Islam must be bad. The minnirettes (sp?) in Switzerland, and now the burkas in Europe.

It is probably true there is a slight public safety issue with the clothing, but that's not what's driving this discussion, it's only a handy excuse and a semi-factual basis for justification.

01:53 May 2, 2010 by cheeba
I wonder if Ms. Koch-Mehrin feels equally uncomfortable when she comes across a woman in Germany wearing a traditional Roman Catholic (and very European) Nuns Habit. This outfit is nearly identical to the Burka, the Nuns habit shows a bit more face, the eyes, the nose, the tip of the chin, the neck is wrapped, the arms are fully covered to the end of the wrists. They were a common sight all over Europe until the middle of the last century.
09:32 May 2, 2010 by snorge
Woooo Hoooooo It's about time!!!

10:30 May 2, 2010 by michael4096

Public safety is only one thing. Most societies rely to a very large extent on body language and facial recognition. Every time you visit an amt, bank or get on a bus with a passcard the system only works properly when you as a person are 'recognized' as being a person.

Somebody made a comparison to a nun's habit, but the habit deliberately allows for body language - the burka deliberately obscures it.

Maybe, one day, human society will be able to function without the animal instincts we have inherited from 10 million years ago - but, then will we be human?
10:59 May 2, 2010 by abemarch
Those who wear a Burqa can view the world, but won¦#39;t allow the world to view them. Wearing a headscarf as a covering is not the same thing.

If one wants to live in a western society, they should assimilate in both language and attire.

If a western woman travels to some countries in the Middle East, she is not permitted to walk around in shorts. Observance of society rules goes both ways. Men who insist that their women be covered so as not to be a temptation to other men are insecure. In western society, most everything is based on temptation or appeal. One cannot live a secluded life except in a secluded society.
11:41 May 2, 2010 by OkieinBerlin
Ban the burqua in the interest of public safety, Prufrock? Surely these are shaky grounds for violating western religious freedoms... how many crimes are committed by burqua wearers? How many crimes are committed by people driving automobiles? In possession of firearms? Drunk on beer? Shall we ban all this, too? Of course there is no legitimate reason for wearing a ski mask into a bank, or into any establishment -- this is a poor argument. On the other hand, are we to attack our most cherished western values because sensative types find certain attire unsettling? Personally, I find lots of things I see on the street every day rather unsettling, but I wouldn't call for some silly reatcionary ban on them...
14:17 May 2, 2010 by cheeba
All of the arguments here are interesting, many of them well thought out, but I would point out that Ms. Koch-Mehrin demands a ban on "all forms" of the Burka, which she calls a "mobile prison" and I doubt that compromising to take account of the public safety issues mentioned would sway these people anyway, An obvious compromise could be to call in Karl Lagerfeld to design a new line of state approved Burkas incorporating the elements of the Nuns Habit which permit the showing much of the facial features. I doubt this would resonate with the critics of the Burka, since they are at the same time agitating for other bans, like the one on headscarves worn by teachers in schools which don't cover any of the face, it seems anti-Muslim bias plays more of a roll for these critics than public safety in the end.
18:11 May 2, 2010 by nuthergeorge
As kids growing up here in Minnesota our parents often reminded us that "when in Rome, do as the romans do". We took it to mean that while traveling one should respect local values/customs. To dress less severely should not be that big a deal for Muslims to respect the customs of their present locale. If it is a big problem, perhaps they would be more comfortable back home in their own lands.
18:28 May 2, 2010 by herve_jaubert
The burka helps evade the police and hide. I know, I have done it myself in their own country to hide, live in clandestinity and conceal my frogman gear when I escaped from Dubai.
18:43 May 2, 2010 by wmm208
What if they made the Burka stylish like German leather boots? Perhaps a pleather Burka? Or perhaps a sporty Burka by Jack Wolfson. Or perhaps a formal Burka by Hugo Boss. Would it be okay then? I know you Germans and when art is involved, everyone thinks it is subjective, but okay in the end. The Burka is here to stay. You will like it or not but its not going anywhere. Maybe if the Burka is banned then they can ban the Germans from wearing those funny leather pants in the sud.
22:42 May 2, 2010 by Talonx
Say goodbye to the FDP, they just can't stop shooting themselves in the foot.
14:06 May 3, 2010 by LancashireLad
I'm partly in agreement with her. I'm with the "uncover the face" group. The rest can be an amorphous blob as far as I am concerned. Humans gain most of their communication from facial expressions so the face cannot be hidden. The reason this doesn't count in countries like Saudi Arabia is that anyone wearing the Burka is not allowed to communicate: either she has been trained not to communicate with anyone outside the house except for family, or he is up to no good and has no intentions of communicating anyway. People in these countries know not to even try to communicate with a burkha. You just cannot apply that here.

For those that becry tolerance, please ask a burkha wearer in Europe to tolerant of european customs.

Someone also commented that underneath the burkha women are very often less than modest. That's actually quite obvious. They are not made of light material and it's got to be hot under there.
14:48 May 3, 2010 by michael4096
..anyone wearing the Burka is not allowed to communicate..
Actually, it is even worse. Just as the norm here is that everybody gets to participate in *the* society and except its responsibilities, in Saudi and other islamist states, women have their own societies centered around the extended family. The burka is like a tunnel though which a woman can pass through men's society to do their shopping etc. Its not just communication thats stopped, but any contact with and any participation in *the* society.

Unlike pesch and some other posters, I'm quite optimistic for the future of germany with a larger muslim proportion because the vast majority of muslims here are very happy with the single society idea - and women do participate. There will probably be a small teenager movement doing the exact opposite of their parents and wanting the burka but, like most teenagers, they'll get over it once they have a family to think about.

The danger with all the anti-burka rhetoric is that it may generate a pro-burka backlash and so even tighter controls; thus, giving moderates a pyrrhic victory. So I'm with you, minimal controls just to enable most of society to work - participation in society is natural for humans so let nature take care of the anti-social burka.
16:02 May 3, 2010 by scout1067
Simple, expel Muslims and have more European babies, that would eliminate the demographic need to import workers in the first place wouldn't it?
12:52 May 4, 2010 by Talonx
@ LancashireLad

Have you ever been to a middle eastern country. In most of them Westerners are allowed to completely ignore the cultural shame strictures of the local populace, walking around in Bikinis and the like. In this sense, most of the Middles East is more tolerant than the West. What these laws do, is identical to what a law forcing a women not to wear any sort of a top would do to Westerners. This is the severity of the law for the people that it will effect. If one would like to argue that women are 'forced' to wear Burka, than one must also note that women are 'forced' to wear tops whereas men can go anywhere in warm enough weather without one. That argument is then null. As is the argument concerning 'I can't discern intention with the face covered', well I think that men should walk around with their pants off then so we can see how excited they are and question them if they look too excited...rediculous as well.

I challange someone on this page to come up with an argument that isn't non sequitor, ignorantly ethnocentric, or smacking of the British cult of moral control that lead to the fascistic anti-social behavior orders.
17:54 March 30, 2011 by Belladonna121
Amnesty International are talking rubbish. We cannot defend tolerance if we tolerate intolerance. I cannot understand people who pride themselves on being liberal and tolerance because they defend a cult which stones people for adultery, flogs gays, hangs people for blasphemy, and carries out genital mutilation of little girls. It is a culture which needs to be driven back to the backward countries which is all it is able to produce. Islam abuses women and children, oppresses minorities, and does not permit freedom of belief. it uses our western tolerance as a weapon against us, so why should we defend their freedom? No sane woman voluntarily wants to wear a shroud. The fact is, we are Europeans, we have certain standards, and if people don't want to live by them, then they must live where their own standards apply. The burka is also a security risk. We don't need the burka in Europe, also we do not need halal meat, which is priduced cruelly, keeping the animal conscious while it bleeds to death slowly and an idiot shrieks prayers over it; we don't need lessons about Islam (they need lessons about their host countries instead) and we don't need laws which prevent us from describing the leader of their cult as a murderous old pedophile. If lunatics can't keep their women in shrouds, eat food which involves suffering animals, attempt to convert children thorugh lessons in Islam, or prosecute us for freedom of speech, then I think we will find they return to those backward hell-holes where such things are normal.
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