A Conservative and Christian Defense of a Woman’s Right to Wear a Niqab



Theo Menon

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany for the past 11 years, announced recently that she would seek to ban niqabs and burkas wherever it can be legally done.

This decision comes as part of a string of shifts rightward Merkel has made over the past year. Since allowing nearly one million refugees into Germany, she has faced harsh criticism from voices both in Germany and abroad after several of those refugees committed a number of high profile rapes and assaults. Merkel, a cautious and cunning politician, has since all but closed Germany to refugees. Although Merkel is known for her consistency on policy, she has previously made this sort of sudden shift for political expediency. Most notably, after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. Merkel, a strong advocate for nuclear energy and a trained physicist, cancelled all plans to invest in nuclear energy. This decision had a strong positive effect on her popularity.

Merkel announced that she would stand for an astonishing fourth term as Chancellor of Germany in the November 2017 general elections. Despite the Western trend against incumbents, Merkel appears to have nothing to fear. She holds a 56 percent approval rating, and her party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), holds a double digit lead in the polls. She is seemingly safe, politically speaking.

So the announcement at the 2016 conference of her CDU party that she would push to ban burkas and niqabs comes as a surprise to many. For many true conservatives, this decision is a sad sign of pandering to the dangerous movement that is populism. Western values have been committed to religious freedom and tolerance, so long as that freedom does not impose on the livelihoods of others. A decision to wear a niqab or a burka does not affect the lives of others. Many argue that the choice to wear a niqab or burka is not outlined in the Koran and therefore asking one not to wear the garb in public does not violate religious freedom. The decision to wear a necklace with a cross or Star of David on it is also not specifically outlined as a necessity in the Bible or the Torah, but one could imagine the uproar it would cause if a government were to move against those articles of religious clothing.

More disturbing than the simple violation of religious freedom is the reasoning behind the policy. The decision is based on the idea that wearing these garments is not culturally acceptable. In short, it is not German. It is understandable to want to ban these garbs because of security. It is impossible to verify a person’s identity of women wearing these clothes. A simple solution would be to provide female security agents who can verify the identity of a niqab/burka wearing woman in private. Security precautions must be taken, but moving against religious liberty because it does not fit into a nation’s “culture” is a dangerous precedent to set.

Many European nations have adopted these bans, and Merkel’s concession shows that she considers the policy to be a marginal move to appease potential populist opposition to her leadership. However, it is the first step on a path that leads to adopted populist social policies. It is the first step on a dangerous path to something Germany has seen in full force before: cultural authoritarianism. These laws seek not only to undermine religious freedom, but the liberal values the West holds so dear: individualism, liberty, and freedom to act how one wishes so long as they do not infringe on another’s rights. Christians and conservatives must be weary of supporting these bans, lest we risk falling prey to these very laws in the future.

Merkel, a bastion of classic liberalism, modern conservatism, and Western values, is beginning to fall prey to the very populism she fears will take her out of power.