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  With elections ahead, Europe debates burqa bans

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Join date : 2011-08-09

PostSubject: With elections ahead, Europe debates burqa bans   Sun Aug 28, 2016 12:11 pm

A woman wears a body-covering burkini in the sea off the coast of Marseille, France. © Reuters

BERLIN/PARIS -- Proposals to ban body-concealing garments worn by Muslim women have sparked fierce debate in Europe, with some seeing the measures as a strategy to capture conservative votes in upcoming elections amid a tense atmosphere fueled by terrorist attacks and a refugee crisis.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union floated the idea of a ban on burqas, which cover the entire body, at a meeting this month. The proposal targets both the burqa and the niqab, which leaves the eyes visible, public service broadcaster ARD reported.

Berlin and the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which includes Merkel's parliamentary seat, will hold state elections in September. Politicians are clearly appealing to conservatives harboring anti-Muslim sentiment stoked by Islamic State attacks in Europe.

The main arguments advanced in favor of restrictions on Islamic garments like the burqa are that they violate women's rights, hinder assimilation and pose a threat to public safety by preventing quick identification.

Though many Muslim women wear the hijab, a hair-covering head scarf, the burqa is rarer. As such, the backlash from Muslim immigrants has been fairly light. Only about 2,000 of France's estimated 6 million Muslims are believed to have been affected by a burqa ban imposed in 2011. The figure is seen as being in the hundreds in Belgium, which followed France's lead that year.

But many contend that government restrictions on clothing are a step too far. Some argue that banning the burqa while allowing face-concealing carnival masks makes no sense. Whether the measures should apply to foreign tourists is another question.
Given these concerns, a blanket ban is unlikely in Germany. Another proposal would bar burqas only in such settings as courts and schools. Merkel sidestepped a question about how far lawmakers would go during a newspaper interview Monday.
Similar situations have arisen in neighboring countries. Austria will hold a presidential election in October, and rumors are circulating that the next parliamentary vote will be moved up to next year. With a far-right party leading in the polls, the ruling coalition, fearing for its electoral prospects, has raised the possibility of a burqa ban.
And the French resort of Cannes barred so-called burkinis -- full-body swimsuits with a head covering -- from public beaches late last month, citing safety concerns. Violators face a 38 euro ($42.85) fine. More than 10 municipalities have passed similar measures.

Even as European governments tout freedom of religion, they have tacked to the wind of public opinion in targeting Muslims with these bans. The debates will continue as anti-Islamic sentiment mounts in European society.


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