Austrian Minister proposes hijab ban

27th Jan 2017
Austrian Minister proposes hijab ban

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration has appealed for a ban on the hijab for civil servants (Photo: Ailura/Creative Commons)

Amira Al Hooti

Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration and a member of the Christian Conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), has strongly appealed for a ban on the hijab for civil servants. Kurz, 30, and Muna Duzdar, 38, a Muslim born to Palestinian parents and a member of Austria’s Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), are drafting a law on the prohibition of headscarves amongst public workers including teachers. They plan to send the draft to Parliament once a pronouncement has been made by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

According to a spokesperson Kurz has claimed that Austria is “religion-friendly, but also a secular state” despite his current efforts to ban the hijab as well as plans to introduce a ban on the full-body veil.

Although referring to Austria as “secular”, Kurz is allowing and even encouraging Christian crosses to be placed in classrooms as he refers to Austria’s “historically grown culture” suggesting that he wants to maintain this, and perhaps showing that his claim that the state is “religion-friendly” is one-sided.

According to ECJ, companies should be allowed to prohibit the hijab, but only if they are placing a general ban on all religious and political symbols. Kurz’s proposals only target Muslims.

“I’m open to discussions about this but in reality, one cannot pick individual religions. If you discuss religious dress and symbols, you have to speak about all religions. We work on a dialogue with all religious communities,” Duzdar told Reuters.

Muslim organisations have condemned Kurz’s proposal. Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich (IGGÖ) posted a statement on Facebook. “We urgently urge this backlash, which threatens to undermine further cooperation between the IGGÖ and the Ministry of Integration,” said Ibrahim Olgun, President of IGGÖ.

In the same statement directed at Kurz’s proposal, IGGÖ stated that “it has long been known that participation in professional life is a key to successful integration.”

Muslimische Jugend Österreich (MJÖ) or Muslim Youth Austria have also joined IGGÖ in denouncing the law which Kurz hopes to pass once the draft has been finalised.

“The exclusion of a large proportion of women from the state service and the labour market is an unacceptable discrimination whose social impact leads to alienation. To wear the headscarf and to work for the state is not a violation of the neutrality of the state towards religion and belief, on the contrary, it is an expression of religious freedom and the high, developed human rights standards that we enjoy in Austria,” said Nermina Mumic, one of three federal presidents of MJÖ.

An anti-racism organisation, ZARA, ‘documented a total of 927 racist incidents in 2015’ and ‘a total of 69 racist smearings were reported to ZARA in 2015. 62 smearings were documented in Vienna. Five of them were found in public transport.’  Of the 62 incidents, 20% were recorded as “Anti-Muslim”, being the second highest following “swastikas and anti-Semitic” incidents at 49%.

If the proposal is to be accepted and the law passed, it would show the Minister’s lack of willingness to cooperate at all with the Muslim community in Austria, despite Islam being not only the fastest growing religion in Austria but also across the globe. In 2010 Muslims made up nearly 6% of the total Austrian population.

This proposal could be harsher than other laws that have been proposed or passed in other European countries such as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bid to ban the niqab “wherever it is legally possible” in Germany.

Omar Al-Rawi, Chairman of Female Austrian Muslims said that Kurz intends to “profile himself politically on the backs of Muslims” suggesting that he is also trying to be strategic in introducing such a ban.

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