Austria approves headscarf ban in primary schools
Law against ‘religiously influenced clothing’ exempts male Sikh and Jewish headwear
Muslim women in the Lyon Great Mosque, France
The ban was proposed by the ruling rightwing government. Photograph: Alamy
Austrian MPs have approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling right wing government.
The text refers to any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.
Representatives of both parts of the governing coalition, the centre-right People’s party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom party (FPÖ), have made it clear that despite its wide description, the law is targeted at the Islamic headscarf.
Austrian full-face veil ban condemned as a failure by police
The FPÖ education spokesman, Wendelin Mölzer, said the law was “a signal against political Islam” while the ÖVP MP Rudolf Taschner said the measure was necessary to free girls from subjugation.
The government said the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys and the Jewish kippa would not be affected. Medical bandages and protection from rain or snow are also not covered by the law approved on Wednesday.
Austria’s official Muslim community organisation, IGGÖ, has condemned the proposals as “shameless” and a “direct assault on the religious freedom of Austrian Muslims”. The organisation has signalled that it will seek to challenge the validity of the law at Austria’s constitutional court.
The government has already said it expects the law to face legal challenges, since similar legislation affecting schools is normally passed with a two-thirds majority. In this instance almost all opposition MPs voted against the measure, with some accusing the government of focusing on garnering positive headlines rather than child welfare.
Irmgard Griss, of the liberal Neos party, said the ban threatened to do more harm than good by making girls at Austrian schools responsible for the repressive policies of authoritarian regimes in Iran or Saudi Arabia. There was no evidence, Griess said, that girls found it more difficult to learn when wearing a headscarf.
The ÖVP and FPÖ formed a coalition in late 2017 after elections in which both parties took a tough anti-immigration stance and warned of the dangers of “parallel societies”. The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said in April 2018: “Covering up small children is definitely not something for which there should be space in our country.”
In a speech on Wednesday, the bestselling Austrian-German novelist Daniel Kehlmann condemned Kurz’s leadership. “I want to ask our silent chancellor very matter-of-factly whether he is fully aware that history books of the future will remember him as the man who enabled a party of rightwing extremists to damage the outer image and inner fabric of this country to such an extent that it will soon no longer be repairable.”
Kurz oversaw an Austrian ban on full-face coverings in 2017, introduced as part of an “integration” policy aimed at limiting the visibility of orthodox Islam in public life. It was criticised by police after it mainly resulted in the issuing of warnings against people wearing smog masks, skiing gear and animal costumes.
“If this law was intended as a contribution in the fight against conservative Islam, then I can only say: it’s gone belly-up,” a representative of the Austrian police union said at the time, adding that many officers were declining to enforce the law.
Denmark enacted a ban on the wearing of face veils in public in 2018, joining other EU countries including France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, and the German state of Bavaria.