German Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed a partial ban on the face veil, hardening her party’s once-progressive view on immigration in the face of rising anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe.
Speaking at the Christian Democratic Party conference, Merkel suggested that the burqa and the niqab, head coverings traditionally worn by Muslim women, are “inappropriate” and insisted that German law “takes precedence over codes of honor, tribal or family rules – that has to be spelled out clearly.”
While some of her closest colleagues in the party have previously suggested a ban on face coverings, purportedly for security reasons, the BBC reports that this is the first time Merkel has made such a strong statement publicly.
Merkel has often been criticized for her handling of Europe’s refugee crisis, when she opened German borders to allow hundreds of thousands of people, mostly fleeing war in the Middle East and Africa, to enter the country. Many will see this tough rhetoric as an attempt to assuage any worries that she has moved to the left. Addressing the events that led to the stark rise in immigration, Merkel said: “A situation like the one of summer 2015 cannot, must not, and will not be repeated.”
Germany’s far-right AfD party has capitalized on widespread anger at the numbers of refugees and migrants coming to the country, repeatedly calling for stricter border controls. It also has an anti-Islam policy, stating in its manifesto: “Islam does not belong to Germany.”
A full ban on the burqa would contradict German laws, but a partial restriction could mean that women would not be able to wear a face veil in public places such as schools, universities, and airports. Merkel was vague on the specific details of the plan, saying only that the full veil “should be banned wherever it is legally possible.”
If Germany does ban the burqa, it will follow European countries like France and the Netherlands. In these countries, as in Germany, it is thought that only a tiny minority of Muslim women actually wear the full face covering, and critics of the move say that such a proposal is a tactic to combat the rising popularity of far-right parties.