Headscarves new target for Austrian far right
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