Headscarves new target for Austrian far right

November 4, 2008

It’s already been a big theme in Germany, FranceTurkey and the Netherlands, and now the Austrian far right is asking: Should public employees be allowed to wear Muslim headscarves at work?


Two women have become the first schoolteachers in Vienna to wear headscarves while teaching.


One is also a local centre-left Social Democrat politician.


Teachers in other parts of the country already wear headscarves, and there is no law banning public employees from wearing such items as there is in some other European countries.  


But the two women have now found themselves featured on the front page of the Austrian daily Oesterreich and have drawn criticism from the resurgent far right, which won a combined one-third of the vote in a parliamentary election several weeks ago.


“Headscarves are a symbol of Islamism and female oppression. They have no place in Austria,” says Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the far-right Freedom Party, which has now become Austria’s third most powerful.


The director of the state schools in that part of Vienna fully supports the women — one-third of the school children come from Turkish families so the women “break down linguistic and cultural barriers”, she says.


But some feel a division between religion and state is more important.


“Something that would be unthinkable in Turkey is a reality in red (left-leaning) Vienna,” says Martin Strutz, the general secretary of the right-wing Alliance for Austria’s Future.


“The (Vienna) Social Democrats don’t value the separation between church and state any more,” he adds, calling for a complete ban on headscarves and veils in public office.


While Freedom and Alliance call for symbols of Islam to be removed from state schools, they do not seem to object to symbols of Christianity in Austria, which is predominantly Roman Catholic.


The ban on religious symbols in France, on the other hand, covers all faiths in a strict separation of religion and state. The arguments to uphold the ban there also focused more on women’s rights, rather than equating the veil with Islamism.


By targeting Muslims specifically and raising fears about Islam, the Austrian far-right parties can touch on the kind of themes that helped them win so many votes in September 


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

In this day, where we are supposedly free in the Western world, where by fighting “female oppression” and seeking religious equality by banning of religious symbols, we have, in fact, restricted the freedom to live within the laws of one’s own religion. Enforcement of separation between religion and state is important, until it infringes on the public’s ability to worship how they choose. A wiser and more appropriate government stance on religious symbols would be indifference.

-Dan (33/M/USA)

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

[…] Headscarves new target for Austrian far right “The (Vienna) Social Democrats don’t value the separation between church and state any more,” he adds, calling for a complete ban on… […]

Posted by Democrats On Best Political Blogs » Blog Archive » Headscarves new target for Austrian far right | Report as abusive

A multi-million pound scheme to tackle the persistent underachievement of ethnic minority pupils is to be launched by the government with extra funding and measures to improve performance in primary and secondary schools. One in four children leave schools functionally illiterate and innumerate. Muslim children suffer more than others. In the name of integration they have been mis-educated and de-educated for the last 50 years. There is a plenty of evidence to support that present system of schooling only breeds intolerance and isolation. There are over 100 Muslim schools and only four of them are state funded. This means only well off Muslim parents can send their children, unfair for low paid and unemployed.

A Scottish council is willing to consider providing a state funded Muslim school if the community asks for it. The demand from Muslim parents has led East Renfrewshire council to consider the possibility of setting up a state funded Muslim school. The council is already funding a primary Jewish school. All LEAs with Muslim majority should consider for setting up of state funded Muslim schools for the balanced education of Muslim children, otherwise, they will keep on suffering educationally, emotionally, socially and spiritually. State funded Muslim schools are an investment for the future of British society. The only reason for the setting up of Muslim school is simply because more and more people in the community are coming round to the view that an Islamic school is the best choice for our children. The view is based on the belief that an Islamic school not only strengthens and maintains our children’s faith and practice of Islam, but also offers the best chance of academic success, as GCSE results continue to confirm. Today we are faced with the situation where the morality and education is declining in schools. Our children are being exposed and being entrapped into a way of life which is un-Islamic.

Parents should be given the right to set up schools or take over existing ones under private charitable or community management. They should also be given a voucher for £3500 to be used to pay for a school set up by any charity, community or church group. Vouchers would give parents a wider choice. It will put power in the hands of parents by forcing schools to compete for their business. Privatization of LEAs has not been able to raise the standard of education of Bradford, Hackney and Southwark. The only alternative left is state funded Muslim schools for economic, social, emotional and personal well being of the Muslim children. It will be money well spent.
Iftikhar Ahmad

Posted by Iftikhar Ahmad | Report as abusive