Recent attacks in France and Germany have put the international community on alert and caused governments in those countries to draft or enforce legislation aimed at preventing future attacks. While countries in France have drafted legislation directly targeting what is believed to be symbols pertaining to Islamic extremism, Germany has chosen a more neutral approach by targeting all items of clothing that obscure facial identity in public places. However, despite the approach taken, both countries have come under heavy criticism for enforcing such laws in the name of public safety.
Though France was the first country to ban both the burka (full-face Islamic veil) and the niqab (partial facial covering) in 2011, the mayor of Cannes in southern France, David Lisnard, has recently faced criticism for banning burkinis (full-body swimsuits) from beaches. Many critics have questioned the legality of the ban by pointing out that French law only bans facial coverings. However, David Lisnard has disregarded those questions and instead attempted to focus the conversation on the public policy reasons behind the law. One reason cited for the ban was to prevent incidents of public disorder. The idea behind that reasoning is that beachwear displaying a religious affiliation at a time when France and places of worship are targets of terrorist attacks is a portent for augmenting tensions and disrupting public order.
Similar to the French, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has called for a partial ban on burkas in public places only days after saying a full ban on burkas would be unconstitutional. The law would prevent any facial veil in schools, universities, nurseries, public offices, or while driving. While the proposal still has to be approved before becoming law, many feel it is only a matter of time, given Germany’s victimization by Islamic State attacks and a record number of Muslim asylum seekers seeking entry into the country. Thomas de Maiziere has endorsed the partial ban as essential to the social cohesion of Germany’s citizens while in public and open society. Moreover, he has emphasized that the proposal is not a ban on the burka specifically, but rather a ban on any full veil where only the eyes are visible.
While government officials in France have faced criticism from citizens and political activist groups, Germany’s government officials’ political motives have been questioned. In response to the Cannes ban on burkinis, groups such as the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) have announced their intent to challenge the law. In Germany, however, critics are questioning whether the proposal is purely political since recent statistics demonstrate it is uncommon to see a woman in Germany wearing a full-face veil or even a scarf. Moreover, two issues central to Germany’s general election next year will focus on asylum seekers and preventing future terrorist attacks.
Given the criticism and public outrage towards the Cannes’ ban on burkinis, future news may be expected regarding the status of the law. Also, Germany’s proposal may continue to make news up until the general election if the law is of importance to the main issues discussed in next year’s general election.
Nicole Chaney is a 2L at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Online Managing Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy and Staff Editor on the Denver Law Review.