Germany Proposes Partial Ban on Face Veils in Public Places
BERLIN — Under growing pressure from the far right in German state elections next month, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc said on Friday that Muslim women should be barred from wearing face veils in schools, universities and when driving.
The proposal, which would ban the wearing of veils in any circumstance in which showing one’s face is essential to establishing identity, was announced by the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, who has been under increased pressure after a series of terrorist assaults and a gun rampage last month.
More than a million refugees, many of them Muslim, have come toGermany over the past 18 months, seeking asylum in a country that has traditionally granted it to those fleeing war. In September, Ms. Merkel extended a special welcome to Syrian refugees, a move that swelled the intake and that eventually led to a backlash and contributed to a rise in support for the far-right.
Recent attacks by refugees, including a stabbing on a train and a suicide bombing at a music festival, have added pressure on Ms. Merkel, who faces a general election next year, to show that she can balance security concerns with her “we can do it” policy.
Mr. de Maizière and Ms. Merkel stopped short of calling for an outright ban of the burqa, which covers the entire body except for a semitransparent panel over the eyes, or of other Muslim cloaks, which they have said would not win approval from the country’s constitutional court. The proposal allows coverings like the hijab, a head scarf that does not cover the face.
Germany’s system of government, carefully constructed after the Nazi era to prevent the accumulation of state powers, means the authorities interfere less than officials do in countries like France, where the preservation of secularism is a long-established norm. France banned face-covering veils in 2010, and this summer several towns prohibited so-called burkinis, swimsuits that leave only the face, hands and feet exposed, from their beach.
Announcing the proposal on Friday, Mr. de Maizière was flanked by the conservative leaders of two states that will hold elections next month — Lorenz Caffier of the northern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the east, and Frank Henkel of the city-state of Berlin. Both men are running on strong law-and-order platforms and had called for a ban on veils.
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