German chancellor Angela Merkel announced yesterday that she would support a ban on veils that hide the entire face of Muslim women “wherever it is legally possible,” arguing that the full-face cover was “not appropriate” and went against cultural norms.
It’s widely seen as a way to appease her critics, many of whom denounced her after she welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country over the past two years, as she attempts to run for a fourth term in office.
Merkel has criticized full-face veils in the past, but this was her first time calling for a legal ban on them.
While many atheists may see this as a step in the right direction — as a full veil represents a disturbing aspect of orthodox Islam, and forcing Muslim women to assimilate may help them overcome the sexism inherent in their faith — it’s also concerning that a government is telling a particular religious group what they can or cannot wear. If they can impose this restriction on Muslims, there’s no reason they can’t do the same with other religious (or non-religious) groups in the future.
Some may argue this is a safety measure, but surely there are better ways to protect people than banning a piece of clothing in all public places.
The Center For Inquiry has denounced the ban, calling it “distasteful and dangerous”:
CFI, which advocates for secular government and humanist values around the world, warned that such a ban would constitute a retreat from the protection of freedom of religion and expression long championed by the post-war German state. This retreat could worsen tensions, embolden the country’s extremist nationalists, and push Muslim women and girls — who are already in a vulnerable state — deeper into fear and isolation.
“We strongly oppose allowing religions to dictate oppressive dress codes on women, but change must come by freeing women to choose their own style of dress — not by imposing bans,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s director of government affairs. “Targeting Muslim religious practices is a distasteful and dangerous electoral ploy to appeal to rising right-wing sentiments. Civil liberties should never be subjected to political calculus,” he added.
CFI added that there are times when such a ban might make sense — like in a court of law or at the airport — but as a general rule? All a broad ban does, the group claims, is turn Muslims into scapegoats while violating their religious freedom.
As I’ve said before, let’s not oppose an extremist interpretation of Islam that tells Muslim women what to wear by telling those same women what they can’t wear.
By suggesting that peaceful Muslims who cover themselves up are part of the problem, the German government is sending a message that could strengthen Islamic extremists. Those radicals already claim the western world hates Islam; this kind of ban would play right into their narrative.
“Particularly troublesome is a burqa ban at public demonstrations,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and Legal Director. “This will alienate Muslim women, sending the message that they should be discouraged from participation in public life, including the free expression of dissent. While there is oppressiveness in the burqa, silencing those who choose to wear it is another form of repression.”
“A burqa ban might please some in Germany, but its effect will be contrary to the expressed aim of improving coexistence in society,” said De Dora. “If girls are banned from wearing Islamic dress at schools, parents may keep those children home. Observant Muslim women will be pressured to refrain from appearing in public. Muslim women and girls will be made to feel they are not welcome in their own country. We urge Chancellor Merkel to reconsider.”
Whatever gains Germans hope to achieve by instituting this ban may be outweighed by all the problems such a ban would cause.
When Cannes (France) Mayor David Lisnard banned full-body swimsuits (“burkinis”) a few months ago, there was similar pushback from advocates of civil liberty. At least one promised to foot the bill for any Muslim woman fined for wearing whatever she wanted on the beach.
I would love to see a similar reaction in Germany.
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