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Austria plans headscarf ban for primary school pupils

Austria's government announced on Wednesday its intention to bring in a ban on the headscarf for girls in kindergartens and primary schools.

Austria plans headscarf ban for primary school pupils
File photo shows Muslim students playing basketball at the La Reussite Muslim school in Aubervilliers, outside Paris, in 2013. Photo: AFP

Education Minister Heinz Fassmann said that the draft law would be ready by the summer. He added that it would be a “symbolic” act, regardless of how many children were actually affected.

Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) had floated the idea of a ban over the weekend, saying that girls “under the age of 10 must be protected” and be able to “integrate and develop freely”.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the centre-right People's Party (ÖVP) also backed the idea, telling the Oe1 radio station: “We want all girls in Austria to have the same opportunities”, and that he wanted to avoid the development of “parallel societies”.

The Kurier newspaper reported that neither the education ministry nor various experts asked by the paper were able to provide figures for how many girls currently wear the headscarf in kindergartens and primary schools.

Carla Amina Baghajati, spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria, called the debate over the headscarf “a marginal issue”, which had been given disproportionate attention.

Any schools affected by the issue should be engaged in “dialogue”, she said.

Debates around immigration and identity were central to last year's election campaign which resulted in Kurz becoming chancellor after agreeing a coalition pact with the FPÖ.

Austria received more than 150,000 asylum applications — almost 2 percent of its total population of 8.7 million — following the migration crisis of 2015.

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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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