Austria Criminalizes the Wearing of Burqas in Public

By Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe

VIENNA, Austria – On Sunday, October 1st, Austria implemented a law prohibiting Muslim women from wearing Burqas in public.

Woman wearing a niqab. Photo courtesy of The Guardian.

The “Prohibition for the Covering of the Face” law, commonly known as the “Burqa Ban,” was approved in May of 2017 and implemented on October 1st. It prohibits women from wearing burqas and niqabs in public.

The decision to prohibit burqas comes at a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is at an all-time high, both in Europe and the United States. The law has thus far garnered strong support in the predominantly Catholic country, reflecting anti-Muslim attitudes.

Similar sentiments have become increasingly prevalent in other European countries. In the midst of elections in Germany in September, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany party campaigned with posters featuring the slogan “Burqas? We prefer Bikinis.”

The upcoming national election in Austria is looking favorably to those who are campaigning on an anti-migrant message.

Five out of seven of those polled that support the law also said they will vote for the two parties that are linked to anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Freedom Party and the People’s Party.

Muslim women leaders are condemning the law, viewing the claim that it is intended to help women as insincere.

Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Austrian Islamic Religious Authority, criticized the law. “They believe that they are ‘freeing these women’ and that they’re taking action to secure the identity of Austria, but this is hypocritical as the idea of an open society is that everybody has the liberty to act and dress as they please as long as nobody else is harmed,” she said.

Activists and experts say that the ban violates religious rights and will only perpetuate the problem of Islamophobia.

Farid Hafez, a senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, said that “Islamophobia is a problem in Austria as it is a problem and a challenge to democracy, human rights and religious freedom in many European countries today.”

Sebastian Kurz, Foreign Minister of Austria, said that the burqa “is not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society.”

Those who defy the law and continue to cover their faces can be fined up to $175. Police are authorized to use force for anyone resisting the law.

Laws such as these are already in effect in France and Belgium. The Alternative for Germany is also calling for such measures.

The ban affects approximately 150 women.

For more information, please see:

The Guardian – Austria’s Full-Face Veil Ban is a Kneejerk Reaction to the Rise of the Far Right – 1 February 2017

USA Today – Austria Becomes Latest European Country to Ban Burqas – But Adds Clown Face Paint, Too – 27 September 2017

PBS – ‘Burqa Ban” Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 30 September 2017

Aljazeera – Austria Face Veil Ban ‘Criminalizes’ Muslim Women – 1 October 2017

BBC – Austrian Ban on Full-Face Veil in Public Places Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

New York Times – Austria’s ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Comes Into Force – 1 October 2017

Washington Post – ‘Burqa Ban’ Law Signals Rightward Political Turn in Austria – 1 October 2017

Author: Jenilyn Brhel

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