The president of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, has called for all women to wear headscarves in solidarity with Muslims in an effort to fight against “rampant Islamophobia,” which is said to be occurring in Austria, according to Yahoo!. The president has received some backlash as he seems to be at odds with Austria, who is the latest European country to ban niqabs and burqas in public spaces and institutions.
“If this very real and rampant Islamaphobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all – out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”
The president of Austria added that it is every woman’s right to dress in a manner in which she feels fit. Van der Bellen was responding to a question from a student who argued a ban on Islamic headscarves or veils would reduce women to their appearance, rather than accomplishments. The Austrian president added all women could wear a headscarf.
“… And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf.”
The student added the ban would shut some out of the labor market, according to The Independent.
“It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter.”
Van der Bellen’s comments were made in March but emerged after being broadcasted on Austrian television, according to the Washington Post. The comments were made in the midst of a debate in the country and Germany about “burqa bans.”
Van der Bellen would like to see Muslim representatives in Austria make “clearer statements” emphasizing that the atrocities could not be justified in the name of Islam. A spokesperson said these were Van der Bellen’s claims following Isis-linked terror attacks across Europe.
“He also warned against ‘racism from the other side,’ giving the example of a Muslim taxi driver refusing to take Orthodox Jews… This is absolutely unacceptable.”
The office of the president said he believed prohibitions would only be justified under select circumstances. An example would be in the case of female judges, where religious dress could raise questions over their professional neutrality.
Despite the president’s left-wing background, the Austrian government is a coalition between the centrist Social Democratic Party and conservative Austrian People’s Party.
Partial Bans On Full-Face Veils
For many, a hijab is an assertion of religious and cultural identity. Yet for others, it is taken as a symbol of female oppression. Announced in January, the populist Freedom Party of Austria has pushed for policies including a partial ban on full-face Islamic veils in schools, courts, and other public places, according to The Independent.
The partial prohibition has not come into effect but would apply to the niqab and burqa but not hijabs — which cover the hair and neck area.
At the moment, the government has agreed to prohibit police officers, judges, public prosecutors, and magistrates from wearing headscarves in the interest of appearing “ideologically and religiously neutral.”
In Vienna, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the legislation. In Europe, a wave of terror attacks and the refugee crisis have sparked major concern over integration.
The German parliament voted in support of a draft law banning women working in the civil service, judiciary, and military from wearing the burqa and niqab on Thursday.
According to Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, the ban was compatible with integration.
“[Which] means that we should make clear and impart our values and where the boundaries of our tolerance towards other cultures lie.”
Angela Merkel announced her support for the move in December, saying full-face veils were “not acceptable in Germany” and calling them to be banned “wherever it is legally possible.”
In the Netherlands, Dutch MPs voted for a similar prohibition last year, covering public transport, education, healthcare, and government buildings. Infractions made on the prohibitions result in monetary fines.
In 2011, France became the first country to implement such a law. The support of full-face veils has grown across Europe.
The countries that followed France’s stance include Belgium and Bulgaria. In addition, there are partial bans being imposed in Austria, as well as parts of Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.
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