Austrian minister’s headscarf remark worries Muslims
Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 27 December 2017| 08 Rabi ul Aakhir 1439
Recent remarks by Austria’s newly appointed Education Minister Heinz Fassmann against the headscarf have raised concerns for Muslims living in the country.
Fassmann’s interview published in local Kurier newspaper on Friday quoted him saying “teachers should not wear a headscarf.”
When asked about his opinion on the headscarf ban, Fassmann said: “Yes, I have a sympathy for the secular state and find that teachers should not wear a headscarf, except religious and private school teachers.”
The coalition government formed by Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) earlier this month, has an anti-Islam and anti-immigrant stance.
Reacting to the interview, President of Islamic Religious Authority in Austria (IGGO) Ibrahim Olgun told Anadolu Agency: “Headscarf is our red line.”
“For this reason, we will never allow such an attempt. We will do all we can to prevent the headscarf ban to commence, and we will carry the issue to the constitutional court if necessary,” he added.
Olgun said that the community will meet the minister to speak on the issue and clearly express its reservations.
“We think that behind the desire to ban the headscarf lies anti-Islamism,” Olgun added.
Islamic Federation of Vienna (IFW) General Secretary Harun Erciyas said: “Claiming that teachers with headscarves are contrary to the principle of impartiality actually means insulting their [the teachers’] education and labor. We certainly do not approve of this.
“The Islamic Community, an official institution of the country, describes the headscarf as part of Islam. For this reason, if you remove the people with headscarves from the government, you also remove all the members of this religion from the public and, naturally, it will be discriminating.”
Fatih Karakoca, Austria president of the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), said the minister’s remarks were “unfortunate”.
He went on to say that while there are many problems to be resolved in Austria, the extreme right coalition is bent on creating division and tension in the society.
“Those who want to hide behind secularism and bring a ban on teachers with headscarves today will spread this to all areas, including students, causing unrest in society tomorrow,” Karakoca said.
Religious intolerance is on the rise
Across the street from Vienna’s iconic Ferris wheel, the Schura Mosque is packed each Friday with Muslims who come to pray.
It’s one of some 300 mosques and prayer rooms serving 700,000 Muslims who live in Austria and who’ve enjoyed the same rights as Christians and Jews since Islam was made an official religion there in 1912.
A few mosques, like Vienna’s Islamic Center, even have a minaret. But they are silent these days, a metaphor of sorts for the low profile many Muslims are keeping because they no longer feel welcome in Austria. One of the worshipers at Schura Mosque on a recent Friday was Viennese Councilman Omar al-Rawi. He said Muslim asylum-seekers are especially afraid to enter mosques nowadays.
Much of the Muslim discomfort in Austria is linked to its new government that was sworn on Dec. 18. One of its factions is the far-right Freedom Party, which has Nazi roots and which has joined its bigger partner — the center-right People’s Party — in taking a hard line against Muslims. Critics charge that even before they took office, these parties changed the political discourse in Austria by playing on people’s fears. A majority of voters embraced their message of keeping Austria safe from terror attacks carried out by Muslim extremists elsewhere in Europe, as well as curbing asylum and immigration.
“These factors stir up uneasiness and fears and makes the Muslim to be seen as ‘the other,'” says Carla Amina Baghajati, 51, who is spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria. That “other,” she adds, is perceived as a threat to the Austrian norms.
In recent months, Austria adopted a face-veil ban and, a couple of years before that, banned Islamic institutions from raising funds abroad, even though no such prohibition exists on Christian or Jewish institutions. Baghajati says even the new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, who used to play an active role in bringing Muslims and the government closer when he was integration minister in 2011, is now distancing himself and no longer attends Islamic holiday events.
Farid Hafez, an Austrian author and researcher in the department of sociology and political science at the University of Salzburg, predicted that life will be worse for Muslims now than the last time this governing coalition was in power in Austria from 2000-2005. That’s because the Freedom Party has changed its “scapegoat from the Jew to the Muslim,” he explains.
During its first term, the far-right group was accused of anti-Semitism and the European Union issued diplomatic sanctions against the Austrian government for a short time over its inclusion of the Freedom Party. But the leadership changed and the nationalist faction began forging a closer relationship with Israeli hardliners. Today, the party even has a Jewish parliamentarian.
For its part, the new Austrian government denies it is ostracizing Muslims. Among its stated goals are to improve security in Austria and better integrate refugees and other immigrants who already live there.
Extracts – npr.org| Anadolu agency