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Shark mask wearer falls foul of Austria’s burqa law

Austria's new ban on the full Islamic veil and any face-concealing item is causing confusion, with a man in a shark costume the latest to be ensnared, authorities admitted Tuesday.

Shark mask wearer falls foul of Austria's burqa law
Illustration photo shows a model with an information pamphlet about new Austrian restrictions banning the wearing of burqas and other items covering the face in public places and buildings. Photo: AFP

“This is a new law so naturally there are certain unclear situations and grey areas that need to be ironed out,” Manfred Reinthaler from Vienna police told public radio.

“At the same time there is no legal precedence.”

Austria is the latest European country to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil, known as the burqa or the niqab, in public places. The law came into force on October 1st.

But in order to avoid being sued for discrimination, the government outlawed at the same time any item of clothing that covers the face.

Government guidelines set out a number of exceptions including masks and disguises at cultural events, work wear such as medical masks, and scarves in cold weather.

But the shark costume case — a mascot for the McShark computer chain — and officers reportedly stopping a girl cycling in a scarf show that some police remain bewildered.

 

A post shared by McSHARK (@mcshark_official) on Oct 6, 2017 at 2:57am PDT


“Lawmakers did not set out the temperature (when a scarf could be worn),” said interior ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck.

There is no central register so the total number of fines of up to €150 ($177) levied so far is unclear, Grundböck added.

The ban on the full-face veil, which remains a rare sight in Austria, was seen as the latest effort by the two governing centrist parties to halt a rise in support for the anti-immigration Freedom Party.

Polls suggest that the far-right party will garner around 25 percent support in elections on Sunday and may become junior coalition partners to Sebastian Kurz's conservatives.

ISLAM

Austrian government comes under fire over ‘Islam map’

The Austrian government came under fire on Thursday for a new "Islam map" showing the location of mosques and associations around the country, with religious groups saying it would stigmatise Austria's Muslim population.

Austrian Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled the controversial website. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Austrian Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled the controversial website. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Integration Minister Susanne Raab unveiled an internet website earlier called the “National Map of Islam” with the names and locations of more than 600 mosques, associations and officials and their possible links abroad.

However, the interactive map — compiled in collaboration with the University of Vienna and the Documentation Centre of Political Islam — alarmed many of Austria’s Muslims and the ruling centre-right ÖVP party’s coalition partner, the Greens, also distanced itself from it.

Map demonstrates ‘intent to stigmatise all Muslims’

The IGGÖ Muslim representative council said in a statement that it “demonstrates the government’s manifest intent to stigmatise all Muslims as a potential danger”.

The Green party’s spokeswoman for integration Faika El-Nagashi complained that “no Green minister or MP was involved or even told about it.

“The project mixes Muslims with Islamists and is the contrary to what integration policy should look like.”

Map not meant to ‘place Muslims in general under suspicion’

Raab insisted that the map was not meant to “place Muslims in general under suspicion”.

The aim was “to fight political ideologies, not religion,” she said. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has regularly criticised what he calls “political Islam”.

“Imagine if a similar map was drawn up for Judaism or Christianity,” said Tarafa Baghajati, the head of another Muslim organisation, complaining that it equated terrorism with religion.

He pointed out that around eight percent of Austria’s overall population of 8.9 million were practising Muslims and most of them had no links with such organisations. “It’s worrying and I’m disappointed with the government for adopting far-right ideas,” he said.

Rise reported in attacks against Muslims

Since a jihadist attack left four people dead in Vienna last November — the first to be carried out in Austria — a rise has been reported in the number of incidents in verbal and physical attacks against Muslims in the country. IGGÖ complained that “racism against Muslims is growing”.

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