World, europe

Muslim communities react to Austria 'burqa ban'

Fears grow over proposed plan to ban full-body, facial veils in public spaces

  | 01.02.2017
Muslim communities react to Austria 'burqa ban' File photo

By Askin Kiyagan

VIENNA

Muslim community leaders in Austria have told Anadolu Agency they are worried about a new government move to ban full-body and facial veils used by some Muslim women from being worn in public.

Anadolu Agency heard the concerns after the Social Democratic Party and the Austrian People's Party -- coalition partners in government -- introduced a 44-item program which also includes some restrictions on foreigners and immigration.

In a statement Monday, the Austrian government said: "We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited.”

Ibrahim Olgun, president of the Austrian Islamic Community, said although Austria was a democratic country the ban would mean losing its values.

"We are against the headscarf ban in every place. Our stance on this subject is clear. If the government wants to bring in a headscarf ban, we will fight by applying all legal means," he said.

"We cannot understand the burqa ban in public places. There are people who are not settled in this country, there are tourists; obviously we are reacting to such a burqa ban.

“I do not think this ban is only about us. I am obviously wondering what the Ministry of Tourism thinks about this issue," Olgun added.

He said the Muslim community was opposed to the prohibition of all religious symbols, stating that they expect people of different backgrounds to respect religious values.

Muslim Youth of Austria spokeswoman Canan Yasar called on the government to avoid discriminating against women.

She said the ban would send a message to many women in Austria that "you do not belong here, you are not equal citizens".

"The message a government wants to give to its citizens should not be this," she added.

"Austria is giving up its mutual respect-based communication with its Muslim citizens. With this attitude, the government is shifting into the states that regulate women's clothing according to the law," she said.

Austria’s Network Muslim Civil Society said although the text of the law did not mention "headscarf," the ban would apply to police officers, judges and prosecutors.

"This message is absolutely catastrophic," the group said and claimed: "It is signaling that Muslims seem to be accepted in Austria only if they stay away from education and serve the labor market, if at all, only in the lowest segment.”

“We demand a clear detachment of Austrian politics from an authoritarian populist style that pushes minorities and women to the margins of society and isolates and criminalizes them instead of making a constructive contribution to integration and equality," the NGO said.

While the "headscarf" phrase was not included in the prepared government program, it has been interpreted by Muslim communities as a desire to ban the covering.

* Ilker Girit in Istanbul contributed to this story.

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