“We are concerned only with the welfare of the child”

The North Rhine-Westphalian state government is sticking to its proposal to introduce a headscarf ban for Muslim girls. "For us, the debate is solely about the best interests of the child," said State Secretary for Integration Serap Guler.

CBA: With your proposal for a headscarf ban for Muslim girls, you have caused a great stir? The SPD, for example, accuses you of stigmatizing the religion of Islam and further dividing our society.

Serap Guler (State Secretary for Integration at the Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration / CDU): Our only concern in the debate is the welfare of the child. That should be the focus for everyone.

CBA: Where should the headscarf ban for under-14-year-old Muslimas apply, and who should enforce it in the end??

Guler: We are just at the beginning of the discussion we initiated last week. It is important and right that we talk about this ie. And we are now examining where we have legal options.

CBA: For devout Muslims, it is an affirmation of their religion, while critics see it as a symbol of the oppression of women. You now claim that when little girls have the headscarf put on them by their parents, this is "pure perversion" and a "sexualization" of children. Because the headscarf is supposed to hide a woman's charms from men.

Guler: What we are concerned with in the discussion is to protect the welfare of the child. If a seven-year-old child suddenly goes to school wearing a headscarf, then she certainly did not decide to do so of her own accord. According to Islamic faith, a young girl does not have to wear a headscarf until she reaches puberty. To put it on him anyway sexualizes the child. This is exactly what this debate is about. Here we must take a very clear position.
CBA: Conservatives in particular argue that it is parents, not the state, who educate their children. Children also grow into other religions through their families. In the Catholic Church infants would be baptized and in Judaism infants would be circumcised.
Guler: Of course, parents educate their children, gladly religiously. For us, this is not a religious debate, but one for the free development of the child.
CBA: In the end, don't carry out political disputes here on the backs of children?
Guler: No. Every young woman should be free to decide whether or not to wear a headscarf. That means then also: If a young woman decides to want to wear a headscarf, then this free society should also accept and respect that. But a girl of kindergarten or elementary school age can't make that decision yet. By the way, I get a lot of encouragement for our proposal from many Muslim women. You make a very precise distinction. I am pleased with this approval, because it shows that we are tackling an ie here that is important to many Muslimas.
CBA: For example, what distinguishes a Muslim headscarf from a Jewish kippah? Do you now want to ban all religious symbols from schools and kindergartens?

Guler: No. But we are against the abuse of religious symbols.

CBA: As State Secretary for Integration, how do you intend to explain to devout Muslims that their children have to take off their headscarves, while Catholic girls, for example, wear necklaces with the Christian cross??

Guler: If a child wears a necklace with a cross, he can take it off later without having to justify it or without changing anything fundamental in his life. With many girls of Muslim faith, however, this is not so simple with a headscarf. The social environment often creates such strong prere that it is not possible to decide against the headscarf later without great tension. Some parents also want the child to wear a headscarf as early as possible so as not to question this step later on. In this respect, this is the wrong comparison.

CBA: At the same time, you campaign against the headscarf in schools and kindergartens because you want to stop developments that religious hardliners of the Erdogan government and Salafists are exerting more and more influence on the everyday life of Germans. Do not put with it the whole Islam under extremism suspicion?

Guler: No. This is just one of many explanations why more Muslim children wear headscarves today than, say, ten years ago. And I believe that I, of all people, who clearly profess my Islamic religion, cannot be accused of this.

CBA: North Rhine-Westphalia has already failed in March 2015 with a general ban on headscarves for Muslim teachers before the Federal Constitutional Court. How do you now want to enforce a headscarf ban for children who are not of legal age in terms of constitutional law??

Guler: We are only at the beginning of a process and are discussing various ways in which we as a state can protect children even more strongly. Every child should be able to grow up freely in our country. This is what we stand up for.

The interview was conducted by Johannes Nitschmann.

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