Essen: Addressing an assembly of workers of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the western industrial city of Essen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said today that her government is contemplating banning the burqa’ (full-face veil) that many Muslim women are seen in. After more than a year when Germany witnessed an influx of about a million asylum-seeking Muslim refugees from strife-torn Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, Merkel has made a categorical right-wing statement, which the voters had expected of her much earlier. This comes in the wake of her electoral reverses in September and the German federal election scheduled for 2017.
“Here we say ‘show your face’. So full veiling is not appropriate here. It should be prohibited wherever legally possible,” she told the cheering crowd.
Earlier in September, Merkel had indicated that she might revise her tolerant attitude towards Muslim refugees. “If I knew what change in refugee policy the people in Germany want, I would be prepared to consider it,” she had said, adding, “If I could, I would go back in time to be better prepared for the refugee crisis in 2015, for which we were rather unprepared.” She had made these statements in the face of a heavy electoral loss her party suffered in the hands of the anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany.
The chancellor had also said last summer that she was in favour of a partial ban on the full veil when Germany saw a nationwide debate on burkini: “From my standpoint, a fully veiled woman scarcely has a chance at full integration in Germany.”
Merkel further said today that she would not allow the imposition of Shari’ah on Germany in the changed demographic scenario. On hearing this, the audience burst into applause, indicating that Merkel’s changed stance has come as a relief to her party as well. She had just been selected as their candidate for another 4-year term by virtue of an 89.5% of votes from 994 party delegates.
“People told me I must stand again,” Merkel said to her party workers. “You must, you must, help me,” she pleaded. If elected again, this will be Merkel’s ninth term.
Notwithstanding the initial hard stand on the burqa’, Merkel also indicated that her government favoured an application of common sense rather than a new law to handle the perception of a security threat posed by an invisible face. At airports, for example, the outfit are not and will not be permitted. A year ago, the CDU had rejected a ban.
The party is making a draft of directives, which the government may issue on finalisation, that prohibit the full veil in courts and during police checks. A motor vehicle driver will not be allowed to wear the full veil either.
The chancellor said that the situation of Germany appearing to lose control over its borders wouldn’t recur. “A situation like that (of) the summer of 2015 cannot and should not be repeated,” Merkel said at the two-day conference, adding, “This was and remains our declared political goal.”
“Not every refugee can stay,” the chancellor said even while sympathising with those fleeing an atmosphere of persecution and war.
However, in her 80-minute speech, she also stressed her belief in individual liberty and egalitarianism, based on which she had expressed her reservations about the then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
She suggested today that the election of Trump in the US had made her campaign a tougher challenge, implying that she is apprehensive of meeting the fate of the Democrats of America. “A good quarter century after the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the two blocs, many people have the feeling that the world has gone off the rails,” Merkel said, adding, “We are dealing with a world situation — and that is especially true after the American elections — in which the world must first sort itself out, especially when looking at important things like NATO and the relationship to Russia.”
Merkel criticised Russia for supporting Syria in the act of the latter to bomb Aleppo. “Something is not right” in Germany, she said, as tens of thousands here have rallied against an American-European free-trade pact while “not a person” has marched against the tragedy unfurling in Aleppo.
Before today’s speech, Merkel had faced even the demand to resign in the regional meetings. Her reception by the audience at these meets was otherwise hostile, too.