SHARE
COPY LINK
OP-ED

MUSLIM

Should Germany ban the burqa?

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.

Should Germany ban the burqa?
Photo: DPA

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?

“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.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Will Germany’s motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with other?

It's more important than ever that Germany's two distinct tribes - drivers and cyclists - learn to accept each other rather than being stuck in constant road rage, explains Brian Melican.

Will Germany's motorists and cyclists ever learn to live with other?

Another week, another discussion about whether Germany has become too bike-friendly or, on the contrary, is still a country where the car is king – a cruel monarch who, day in, day out exacts a deathly toll on cyclists, pedestrians, and indeed anyone who likes to breathe air. To those of us with a high proportion of Germans in our Twitter feeds, this debate is nothing new; now, thanks to the fact that the populist think-pieces of Bild are now available in English (Who knew?), the long-running ideological slanging match between drivers and riders is now there for all to follow. Oh, joy!

For many who move to Germany, the country appears, at first sight, to be firmly in the grip of cyclists. Especially in the university towns of the flat north such as Münster, Göttingen, or Braunschweig, the sheer number of visible bikes is remarkable, and even in Hamburg and Berlin, there are cycles lanes seemingly everywhere along which a constant stream of ruddy-cheeked individuals plying their pedals, making liberal use of their bells. Coming fresh from London or Paris, the contrast is striking – and you run a not insignificant risk of being mowed down when standing on the wrong bit of the pavement.

Yet to those who move here from Amsterdam or Copenhagen, Germany looks like a place where cyclists are treated as an unwelcome nuisance by traffic planners and as fair game by unscrupulous motorists with a pronounced taste for speed. The very fact that most cycle lanes are on pavements, for instance, strikes them as strange. Surely the best place for bicycles is well away from pedestrians? What is more, the large amounts of the carriageway space taken up by cars – either in motion or stationary – seem jarring coming from countries which have long prioritised cycling over driving in built-up environments.

As ever, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in between. And, as so often, we Germans have a marked tendency get into endless, cyclical arguments about points of principle and prove unable to learn to live with our contradictions.

READ ALSO: Road rage in Berlin as cyclists clog streets in pandemic

Cyclists at a demonstration in Düsseldorf in May.

Cyclists at a demonstration in Düsseldorf in May. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Young

Speeders’ paradise and cycling favourite

For Germany is, in traffic terms, contradictory. It is at once Europe’s automobile mecca, with the continent’s largest car industry and famously speed-limit-free Autobahns. It’s also one of Europe’s foremost cycling nations in which families routinely bike miles for weekend recreation and the country that gave the world Standlichtfunktion (rear bike lights which remain on when stationary). It’s home to various premium and mass-market manufacturers, behind only China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands in terms of bicycle production and export.

This becomes clear when comparing the bikes Germans ride to those of our European neighbours. Generalisations being odious, the average UK bicycle is a mountain bike poorly suited, in typical British fashion, to the use its owner is making of it: that’s why London businessmen ride into work with their suits in grubby rucksacks with tell-tale streaks of mud up the back and why they are continually scraping around for batteries to put in clip-on lights which inevitably fall off and smash halfway. French households, if at all, have sleek, spotless racing bikes reserved for sporting use in the evenings and at weekends. Otherwise, city-dwellers use widely-available rental bikes – unless it is raining, too warm, too cold, or too windy, or in any other way preferable to not do so. On the other end of the scale, the Dutch and the Danes have workhorse bikes which can fit everything from small children and large dogs through to IKEA flat-pack furniture.

READ ALSO: German state ministers push for Autobahn speed limit

The average German bike, meanwhile, is an all-in-one mountain-cum-city-bike (“Trekkingrad”) with the attention to practical detail for which the country is famous: fitted dynamo-driven lights as standard, a frame over the back wheel onto which weather-proof saddle bags can be clipped, and mudguards over both wheels; it will have at least 21 gears, the highest of which will enable someone in good physical health to do at least 15mph on flats and, increasingly, an electric motor to help it go even faster. Germans build bikes like they build cars: to get you and your stuff comfortably and speedily from A to B. This, by the way, explains the increasing popularity of the pedelec cargo-bikes at the root of the current controversy: they do more or less all the things a car does.

High standards – whatever the transport mode

And this is the nub of the issue: Germans – whether in cars or on bikes – have high standards when it comes to transportation and are congenitally impatient (see also queuing behaviour and ALDI cashiers). When in our cars, we expect to be able to bomb down pot-hole free roads at a minimum of 30mph (and preferably more) and then immediately find a parking space wherever we end up; any impediment to our right of way is taken as a personal insult; pedestrians must cross at designated points or risk death.

READ ALSO: Is it ever acceptable to cross the road at red light in Germany?

People drive on the Autobahn in Laichingen in Baden-Württemberg.

People drive on the Autobahn in Laichingen in Baden-Württemberg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Puchner

And when on our bicycles, we Germans exhibit exactly the same traits: we expect absolutely obstacle-free cycle paths and bike lanes, ample stands and racks wherever we dismount, and are genuinely angry when anyone – on four, on two wheels, or on foot – gets in our way. To give you an idea of just how exacting we Germans are of each other here: I was once, in the driving Hamburg rain, tailgated all the way down the bike lane along Glacischaussee by a woman who, when we stopped at the lights, told me that my mudguard was “antisocial” (asozial) because it, in her opinion, didn’t go far down enough over my back wheel, meaning that she was getting spray in her face. It simply didn’t occur to her to just ride further back or overtake me.

Unfortunately, of course, there is nowhere near enough space in German cities for both those in cars and those on bicycles to be able to drive and ride exactly the way they would like to at all times – without, that is, getting rid of pedestrians entirely (potentially one thing the two groups might agree on). And so we are stuck with groups of road and pavement users shouting abuse at each other (“Verkehrsrowdy!” – road-hog; “Schleicher!” – slowcoach) rather than learning to show consideration, adapt to sub-optimal conditions, and react to unforeseen circumstances. In my own view, the sooner we ban cars entirely from city centres and reclaim the streets for those of us using healthy, emissions-free transport, the better; in the meantime, however, life is too short to be shouting at each other – and could be even shorter for some of us if we all keep trying to do top speed in the same spaces.

SHOW COMMENTS