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Should Germany ban the burqa?

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Photo: DPA
11:35 CEST+02:00
The ruling of the European Court of Human Rights this month to uphold France's 2011 ban on wearing the burqa and niqab veil in public has reignited the debate in Germany too, as The Local finds out in Frankfurt.

Opponents of such a ban here say it would heavily infringe on personal, cultural and religious freedoms and only serve to inflame tensions.

Advocates insist the burqa has no place in progressive, pluralistic German society.

In Frankfurt am Main, a city of 700,000 residents, including a large Muslim population, the issue has split Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU Party and the Greens within the ruling coalition.

Currently, staff in the municipal administration are not allowed to wear veils at work, and there are calls for this to be extended into public life. 

The Local talked to the heads of both local party branches about the implications of a potential ban in Germany, which has around four million Muslims, only a small number of whom wear veils in public.

'Yes to a ban'

"My main objection to the burqa is that it is the strongest signal of dissociation from an open and free society," CDU head Uwe Becker tells The Local.

"We live in a city which is rich in colour and diversity and has 170 nationalities represented. Muslims, Christians, Jews and all manner of other religions peacefully coexist, and it is characteristic of Frankfurt that it all happens in an atmosphere of great openness and freedom.

“But the burqa sends a strong signal that a person does not wish to integrate in the rest of society or wants to dissociate themselves from it.

“For me this issue is not about any restriction of culture or religion, but rather about the risk of disrupting co-existence in such a multi-cultural city as ours.

“Another aspect is how wearing a burqa impacts on public order and the establishment of a person's specific identity.

“In Germany we also had a discussion and subsequent ban [in 1985] on concealing one's face at demonstrations.

“We want to know who is behind the veil and with whose individual actions we are dealing with.”

Do you advocate fines for wearing a burqa in public, which in France is set at €150?

“Whether and to what extent this would be backed up with fines is not the focus for me.

“This is more about making it clear that the lasting, peaceful coexistence of so many cultures and religions is possible precisely because people acknowledge the open society we have in Europe and in Germany - and don't segregate themselves from it.

“Judging from the responses I have received in Facebook and via newspapers, some 90 percent of people here agree.

“But our coalition partners say that a ban is excessive and that we should avert this self-segregation through persuasion instead.”

'No to a ban'

But Martina Feldmayer, co-chairperson of Frankfurt's Green Party takes a different view, as she tells The Local.

Your coalition colleague Uwe Becker says, "We want to know who is behind the veil." Do you think a person or group has the right to insist on this?

“Yes, they have that right, just as others have the right to see the matter differently. There is a big spread of opinion.

“The question here is what do we want to achieve? A better level of integration and more openness within a pluralistic society?

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“You don’t achieve this through imposing bans, because then the hole just gets deeper. We prefer to persuade rather than prohibit.

“In reality, [full veiling of women] is not a mass phenomenon here anyway, and I am concerned that a debate has been set in motion that will only result in stronger polarization.”

How do you regard the position expressed in a similar discussion in Canada by Muslim Canadian Congress spokeswoman Farzana Hassan: "If a government claims to uphold equality between men and women, there is no reason for them to support a practice that marginalizes women."?

“A government should always observe gender equality. But this is not a question of supporting a practice but rather whether something should be banned. And everyone should give careful consideration to the consequences.

“Rather than helping, I think a burqa ban will have the opposite effect and result in some women not being allowed out in public at all.

“My co-chairperson of the Greens in Frankfurt, Omid Nouripour [a Muslim German of Iranian origin], is also against banning the burqa.

“Through Frankfurt’s integration policy and the work of its council for religion affairs we have made great progress through dialogue towards common values. And we came further this way than by discussing bans.”

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