Banning the Burqa: Why Germans Get Worked Up About Ladies in Veils

23/08/2016 14:54

The "Burkaverbot", or burqa ban, is a hot topic in Germany, once again.

Some politicians from the conservative camp, inspired by recent French jurisdiction, have called for a legal ban on women wearing full body veils. (In Germany, for simplicities sake, all body veils are called burqas, even if this is a very particular form of veil only worn in countries such as Afghanistan.)

Unlike the French or British, Germany hasn't had a long standing empire, she never ruled over vast foreign territories whose population was Muslim. While France had ruled in northern Africa, as did Britain in what was to become Pakistan, Germany never had a direct connection with a Muslim country whose people came to her shores after her empire disintegrated.

The first major influx from a majority Muslim country came with the so-called "Gastarbeiter", or guest workers, from Turkey. They started arriving in the 1960s and early 1970s, mostly to work in menial manufacturing jobs.

Some of those who arrived back then, mostly from rural Anatolia, stuck to rather conservative ways and traditions, which here and there caused friction, because of forced marriages and the like. But never did they underscore their faith, at least not in public.

This might have been because the Turkish (so far) have had a long and strong tradition of secularism, ever since the Father of Turks, Kemal Atatürk, tried to forcefully turn his country into a Western orientated nation state between the World Wars.

On the other hand, Germany has a long tradition of being a rather conformist society, in which those who stick out are seen as nuisances. So, outing yourself as being Muslim, or underscoring your Muslim faith, was seen as a sure way to make it even harder for Turkish people to get accepted in Germany.

Also, the Muslim faith has a bit of an image problem in Germany, like in many other Western countries. Most Germans have never heard of Sufism but instead worry about Salafists, standing behind pop-up stalls on the high street, giving away free copies of the Quran to the witless - who then, sooner or later, join the radicals for Jihad in Syria. (So the story goes.)

As the below chart shows, fanaticism and the propensity for violence are often associated with Islam by the majority of German society. Discrimination against women actually scores the highest.


More infos & graphics on religious affairs by Statista

Though the Turkish immigrant workers and their descendants have been in Germany for quite a while, the high influx of refugees last year from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan worries many Germans. Not just because they're foreigners, but also because they're from Muslim countries.

What happened on New Year's Eve in Cologne and other German cities, where many intoxicated men from Maghreb states, such as Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and other Arab countries, sexually harassed women on a scale never seen before has dampened the German's enthusiasm for welcoming refugees further and hardened common prejudices about Muslims, particularly Muslim men.

Then, on the other hand, many a passer-by in Munich doesn't turn a head anymore when a group of obviously minted Emirati or Saudi female tourists, dressed in black from head to toe, roam the pricey boutiques in the town centre, burning their men's petro dollars. Many actually welcome the veiled ladies because of their purchasing power.

But spotting a fully veiled woman at the local IKEA store or the main train station elsewhere in Germany can really get people angry. There's more than one reason as to why burqas, niqabs, hijabs and chadors and the like enrage the regular Joe, or Fritz.

Some argue that those who come to Germany have an obligation to fully adapt, along the lines of: "when in Germany, you do as the Germans do". German Chancellor Angela Merkel has somewhat diplomatically expressed this view, saying she didn't think an outright ban would help but "a fully veiled woman in Germany has barely any chance of integrating."

And indeed, as the below chart shows, even a third of people of Turkish descent in Germany actually believe that in order to integrate, people should not just start speaking German and adhere to German laws, but also adapt fashion-wise.


More infos & graphics on religious affairs by Statista

Others argue that a woman who is forced into hiding under a sheet of cloth is a sure sign of backward social norms, and a punch in the face of female emancipation. Others get the political mixed in and see a black veil as a sure sign of authoritarian tendencies and anti-democratic sentiments.

Others again, after hearing one of the seemingly young veiled women speak fluent German without an accent, indicating she might have grown up in Germany or actually be "biodeutsch" (somewhat jokingly meaning of biological German descent) just can't believe that teenage rebellion has gone down the drain.

To find that these days a rebellious attitude doesn't necessarily entail dying your hair bright colours and wearing skimpy clothes can be shocking, especially when instead it can take the form of going into hiding under a black sheet. (It surely works better than any punk hairstyle these days.)

Full body veils are still really rare in Germany. And more importantly, many liberal minded German women just can't fathom the idea of conservative politicians asking for laws to be passed telling women what to wear and what not.

After all, that's the sort of thing you hear about happening in countries where the Mullahs have a say in fashion affairs, isn't it!?

For now, the German government has decided that it won't pass a general ban on the Burqa. However, it's still contemplating to forbid the full body veil from being worn in public buildings, such as courts of law, schools and universities.