SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A French court has ruled that officials cannot prohibit women from wearing burqinis. That's the full-body bathing suit worn by some French Muslims on the beach. Many European countries, including France, have banned the burqa, which also covers the face, in public places. And Germany is now considering a ban. Janek Schmidt is a freelance journalist who joins us from Munich. Mr. Schmidt, thanks for being with us.
JANEK SCHMIDT: It's a pleasure.
SIMON: I have to ask first - have you seen any women in Germany wearing a burqa?
SCHMIDT: I have to admit I haven't. And it's one element of the debate, the question as to how widespread they are. And personally, I have to say, I haven't seen any. And most people agree that they aren't very widespread.
SIMON: Why do some state interior ministers and others want that ban? Is there some worry that a burqa somehow facilitates terrorism 'cause it could cloak a weapon or something?
SCHMIDT: Well, that was one of the arguments put forward initially. But even the interior ministers of some of the states of the center-right party who then put that suggestion forward, they eventually agreed that it wasn't part of security policy but more of social policy. Then they agreed that the burqa wasn't exactly the right way to integrate yourself in Germany.
SIMON: Well, explain the social policy to us 'cause the German interior minister says - and I'll obviously have to paraphrase here - we're an open society, and cloaking the face of a woman diminishes them.
SCHMIDT: I think he was torn in two directions - on the one hand, trying to show how strong they are politically, but at the same time, the legal constraints for him in the German constitution that make it very difficult to ban the burqa right straight out like that without changing the constitution. So they found a compromise in their suggestion for a new law, which says that the burqa should be banned in certain areas and isn't anything to do with security policy but more social policy.
SIMON: How popular is this proposal to ban the burqa?
SCHMIDT: It's certainly found some support in, especially, the right wing electorate. But it's fairly controversial, even among politicians of different parties. I mean, even some people within Angela Merkel's party, which is the one party that has put them forward, even there there's some people who are quite critical of the proposition.
At the same time, they acknowledge the fact that their party has to defend itself in a way, strategically positioning itself more to the right because there's a new right wing party, the AFD, which is polling now at about 11 percent nationwide. And obviously amongst their voters, the proposition is very popular. So the center-right party is hoping to maybe gain some of those voters for itself.
SIMON: Yeah. Mr. Schmidt, with respect for the way Germany has faced up to its history and the modern country it's become, is there concern in Germany, and other parts of Europe, that when Germany starts banning clothing that's considered religious symbols, there's a history of leading to some very ugly crimes?
SCHMIDT: Certainly, yes. And I mean, certainly with Germany's history, Germany has to be particularly careful in how they treat, let's say, religious groups. And I think that France, that puts the burqa ban so prominently on its political agenda, has led the way. But now that the second most important country in Europe is debating that question, a lot of countries are looking to Germany to see how Germany decides, in particular, given that Germany's usually very careful with decisions like that. And so I think that Germany's decision on that question could influence other countries.
SIMON: Janek Schmidt in Munich, thanks very much for being with us.
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