The Austrian parliament has passed a law banning Muslim headscarves in primary schools. The legislation was met with skepticism on social media but drew support from European right-wing populists.
The new ban prohibits primary school children from wearing “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing, which involves covering of the head.” The legislation specifically notes that the ban covers only the garments that “either cover the hair entirely or to a significant extent.”
Medical bandages, as well as headgear worn as protection from rain or snow, do not fall under the new restrictions. The law also specifically exempts the Jewish kippahs and the Sikh patkas from the ban.
The legislation was supported solely by the MPs from the right-wing ruling coalition consisting of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (OVP) and the right-wing Freedom Party (FPO), who retain a 60 percent majority in parliament. The opposition was unanimous in rejecting the measure they branded a populist stunt.
The ruling coalition dismissed the criticism leveled by the opposition as a view “from an ivory tower,” which is “far from reality.” OVP MP, Rudolf Taschner, said that the law was about liberating the young girls from submission while denouncing the headscarf as a “symbol of oppression.” He also said that “commitment to enlightenment is not populism.”
MPs backing the new law did not dispute the fact that it is targeting a specific religious group. The FPO education spokesman, Wendelin Moelzer, openly said that the legislation is “about sending a signal against political Islam.”
However, the ruling coalition arguments seemingly failed to strike a chord with the public as people on social media were mostly skeptical about the newly adopted measure and particularly criticized the government for singling out Muslims.