A new law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves will go into effect this Sunday in Austria.
The law also bans other non-religious items, such as medical face masks and clown face paint, except under specific circumstances. The law affects the wear of these items in public, to include schools and public transportation.
Austria is now the fifth European country to pass a law specifically targeting the Muslim population of refugees, immigrants, and tourists. Austrian politicians say the law is to retain Austrian culture. The others—France, Belgium, Bulgaria, and Switzerland—have made similar arguments when adopting their own versions of a ban. Germany has a partial ban that only applies while driving.
The ban only targets veils which fully cover the face, like the burqa and niqab. Other religious garments, like the hijab, which does not conceal the face, are still legal in public.
Many European countries have struggled with integrating refugee and immigrant populations which have increased significantly in recent years. In addition to banning face veils, mandatory courses teaching the German language and Austrian culture are part of the new law.
The burqa is “not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society,” Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told Austrian broadcaster ORF in August. “We want to be able to look into the eyes of people in our society.”
“The immigration seen in recent years is changing our country not in a positive but in a negative way,” he said this week.
Critics of the law say it unfairly persecutes an already small Muslim population, who make up only 7% of Austria’s population, and particularly affects Muslim women.
Many countries in Europe have seen a rise in right-wing political parties who have curried influence with strong anti-immigrant positions and policies.
Punishment for not complying with the law includes a fine of $175.
Image courtesy of USAID