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Angela Merkel Calls For 'Full Veil' Ban In Germany


Germany is the latest European country to talk about restricting face-covering veils called niqabs and burkas. France banned them in public places in 2011, and last month, the Dutch Parliament voted to not allow them in places such as schools. Now, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who's seeking re-election next year, says they're not appropriate in her country. Joanna Kakissis reports from Berlin.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, foreign language spoken).

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: In a recent episode of the popular German crime TV drama "Tatort," an actress in a niqab portrayed a young woman radicalized by Islamists.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Afterwards, a TV talk show panel discussed the issue. Few Muslim women in Germany veil their faces, so the expert was Nora Illi, a 32-year-old Swiss convert to Islam. She was cloaked in black, only her eyes and hands exposed.


NORA ILLI: (Through interpreter) In Islam, we can decide whether to cover our faces, wear headscarves or anything else. I personally decided to wear a niqab. It's about self-determination and freedom.

KAKISSIS: Jens Spahn says niqabs demean women and divides society. He's a lawmaker from Germany's ruling party, the Christian Democratic Union.

JENS SPAHN: Every time I see them, I feel very uncomfortable because it's the opposite of my idea of opened society.

KAKISSIS: Now, he says, hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees must learn to live in this society.

SPAHN: One thing is for sure - if you are wearing a niqab, you will never, ever find a job. You will never, ever make friends, German friends or neighbors friends. So this is obviously something that is making integration impossible.

MARWA AL-SHEKTAHA: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Marwa al-Shektaha used to be a computer programmer in Syria. Now, she's a refugee in Leipzig. She says she is trying to fit in even with her headscarf.

AL-SHEKTAHA: We are in this strange land, and these people in here afraid with us.

KAKISSIS: Afraid of Muslims, she says. She says she's never seen a refugee here wearing a full-face veil. More than 4.5 million Muslims live in Germany. Opinion surveys show that most Germans support restrictions on where niqabs and the full-body coverings, known as burkas, can be worn. This summer, the interior ministry suggested banning them in some public places after a string of violent attacks.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Foreign language spoken).

KAKISSIS: Chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that she supports banning such veils wherever legally possible. Her fellow Christian Democrats clapped and cheered. Merkel and her lawmakers face a strong challenge in national elections next year from the Alternative fur Deutschland, an anti-immigrant party that says Islam is not compatible with European values. Georg Pazderski represents the party in Berlin's state Parliament. He says a ban on full-face veils should also apply to tourists from Gulf countries.

GEORG PAZDERSKI: You're not going to Saudi Arabia and you're wearing a bikini, yeah? And I think nobody would accept this in Saudi Arabia or in Kuwait or Qatar or anywhere. They say if you are coming to our country, then you have to respect our culture.

KAKISSIS: Tourists from Gulf states have been flocking to luxury hotels in southern Germany after France banned full-face veils in public places five years ago. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.