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EDUCATION

Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools

Austrian MPs on Wednesday approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling right-wing government.

Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools
Illustration Photo: AFP

So as to avoid charges that the law discriminates against Muslims, the text refers to any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.

However, representatives of both parts of the governing coalition, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), have made it clear that the law is targeted at the Islamic headscarf.

FPOe education spokesman Wendelin Moelzer said the law was “a signal against political Islam” while OeVP MP Rudolf Taschner said the measure was necessary to free girls from “subjugation”.

The government says the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippa would not be affected.

Austria's official Muslim community organisation IGGOe has previously condemned the proposals as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic”.

The IGGOe says that in any case only a “miniscule number” of girls would be affected.

Opposition MPs almost all voted against the measure, with some accusing the government of focusing on garnering positive headlines rather than child welfare.

The government admits that the law is likely to be challenged at Austria's constitutional court, either on grounds of religious discrimination or because similar legislation affecting schools is normally passed with a two-thirds majority of MPs.

The OeVP and FPOe formed a coalition in late 2017 after elections in which both parties took a tough anti-immigration stance and warned of the dangers of so-called “parallel societies”.

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ISLAM

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.