BERLIN — German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière proposed a partial ban on full veils for Muslim women Friday at a conference discussing new security measures following a spate of attacks in the country.
At the conference, state interior ministers from de Maizière’s center-right party said they want to make it a regulatory offense for women to cover their faces in courtrooms, administrative buildings and schools, as well as while driving or attending demonstrations.
“We are opposed to the full veil . . . which only makes the eye visible,” de Maizière said at a news conference. “It doesn’t fit in with our open society. To show one’s face is crucial for communicating, for living together in our society and keeping it together.”
“In the areas where it serves a function to show one’s face, we want to make it a rule . . . and this means whoever breaks it must feel the consequences,” he added.
The proposal comes at a time when a debate about the burqa — a Muslim outer garment that covers a woman’s entire body and face, leaving open only a small grid for the eyes — is stirring passions across Europe.
The French beach town Cannes recently banned the so-called burkini, a swimsuit that covers a woman’s body and head. Several other French coastal towns followed suit, with seven municipalities banning the swimwear or planning to do so.
The Swiss canton of Ticino last month made it illegal for women to veil their faces in public. Belgium, France and the Netherlands previously imposed full or partial burqa bans.
While proponents call the bans a forceful statement against the oppression of women, opponents say the measures violate the rights of Muslims and are alienating them, thereby sowing more societal divisions.
In an interview published Friday by the local newspaper network RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed her interior minister and argued that wearing a burqa would inhibit Muslim immigrant women from assimilating into German society.
“In my view, a fully veiled woman in Germany has almost no chance to integrate,” she said.
Yet critics said that by suggesting a partial ban, the interior minister was trying merely to smooth over divisions within his and Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party on the issue. They said the move, ahead of local elections in two German states next month, also is aimed at appeasing voters unsettled by a massive wave of predominantly Muslim migrants fleeing war or poverty in their homelands.
“It’s already a matter of course that women must take off the veil in situations where they have to identify themselves or in the car,” said Nils Diederich, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University. “The announcement is merely designed to save de Maizière the embarrassment of having to reject the ban.”
Earlier this month, de Maizière dismissed calls from his party’s hard-liners to outlaw the full-body veil. “You can’t ban everything you’re against,” he said. “And I’m against wearing a burqa.”