German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a ban on full face veils worn primarily by Muslim women, as she seeks her fourth term as the country's leader.
Merkel released her first statements publicly supporting a ban at a Christian Democrats party conference in Essen on Dec. 6, amending previous views that full Muslim veils are merely “a hindrance to migrant assimilation,” according to The Washington Post.
“In communication between people, which is of course essential to our living together, we have to show our faces,” she told delegates at the CDU conference, following her re-election as chairman. “So the full veil should be forbidden wherever legally possible.”
Merkel has been seen as one of the “last guardians of liberal democracy in the west” following Brexit in the U.K. and the election of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, but her recent comments on the face veil ban could signify a reawakening of conservative values as she runs for re-election in 2017.
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Critics from German Muslim groups have stated they were “caught off guard” by Merkel’s new stance, and have viewed the comments as a political move to oust right-wing populist party Alternative fur Deutschland in her upcoming re-election.
“I think this is election campaigning,” said Burhan Kesici, chairman of the Islamic Council of the Federal Republic of Germany. “It's a populist statement. I was surprised ... especially since she hasn’t said this with such clarity before.”
Supporters of challenging party AfD have criticized Merkel’s open-door policy that allowed close to 1 million refugees into Germany in 2015, pointing at the alleged rape and murder of a Freiburg medical student by a 17-year-old refugee in December as evidence of a “migrant-fueled crime wave.”
The populist party has called for radical limits on shows of Islamic faith going beyond a burqa ban, claiming “Islam is not compatible with the constitution,” according to Reuters.
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The CDU has not released an official statement regarding how far its proposed burqa ban would go, but German ministries have reportedly begun drafting language that would ban garments which “make open communication more difficult or impossible.”
“We are still fighting over the question of what is legally possible,” CDU lawmaker Jens Spahn told public radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. “And I would actually like to ban it everywhere. I don't want to see the full veil -- no niqab, no burqa, in public life in Germany.”
Merkel’s call to ban the burqa mirrors laws passed by the French government in 2010, banning any face-covering item from public spaces on the basis that the garments “violate individual freedoms.” Other European countries, such as Belgium, have also proposed laws against the religious clothing, in attempts to avoid a perceived threat by ISIS, Daily Mail reports.
Muslim women in Germany who choose to wear a full burqa or niqab are exceedingly rare. Some experts report there may only be a few hundred women who wear the clothing out of the 4.7 million in the German Muslim community.
According to Time magazine, 64 percent of Germans believe it’s a good thing that Merkel is running for chancellor again, indicating the incumbent has a good chance of winning re-election in 2017.