German conservatives call for partial face veil ban

Muslim women wearing various types of Islamic veils, a Hijab (top left), a Niqab (top right) a Tchador (bottom left) and a Burqa (bottom right).
Muslim women wearing various types of Islamic veils, a Hijab (top left), a Niqab (top right) a Tchador (bottom left) and a Burqa (bottom right). PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (REUTERS) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have agreed that Muslim women should be banned from wearing the face veil in schools and universities and while driving, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Friday.

The move follows an influx last year of more than 1 million mainly Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and rising public concern after two Islamist attacks and a shooting rampage by a mentally unstable teenager.

Regional interior ministers belonging to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and her Christian Social Union (CSU) allies will later present a declaration on tougher security measures, including more police and greater surveillance in public areas.

Among the more controversial proposals is a call for a partial ban on the burqa and niqab garments, saying they show a lack of integration, suggest women are inferior and could pose security risks. "We unanimously reject the burqa, it does not fit with our liberal-minded society," De Maiziere told ZDF television. However he stopped short of proposing an outright ban. "We have agreed that we want to make it a legal requirement to show your face in places where it is necessary for the cohesion of our society," he said.

For example, women should be forced to show their face while driving, when they register with authorities, in schools, universities, in public office and in court, he said.

The CDU proposals must be adopted by the government before they can become law. The debate over a ban on the face veil has divided Merkel's ruling coalition, with her Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partners largely against the demands.

The CDU's calls for a partial ban come as it has lost support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which says Islam is incompatible with the constitution and wants to ban the burqa and minarets on mosques. The AfD is expected to perform well in regional elections in Berlin and the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in September.

SPD Labour Minister Andrea Nahles said the calls were a sign of an "increasingly xenophobic" political discourse in Germany.

Germany is home to nearly four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population.

There are no official statistics on the number of women wearing a burqa - which covers the face and body - in Germany but Aiman Mazyek, leader of its Central Council of Muslims, has said hardly any women wear it.

A study carried out by the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees in 2009 found that more than two-thirds of Muslim women in Germany did not even wear a headscarf. The niqab covers the hair and face except for the eyes.