Austria announces Muslim face veil ban

Austria’s coalition government announces plan to ban Muslim face-covering veils.

Ben Ariel ,

Muslim women in face veils (illustration)
Muslim women in face veils (illustration)
Serge Attal/Flash 90

Austria’s coalition government announced a plan to ban Muslim face-covering veils, in what appears to be part of a package of policies aimed at countering the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, the British newspaper Independent reported on Tuesday.

The anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO) has topped opinion polls for months, boosted by the influx of more than a million migrants into Europe in the past two years and concerns over their impact on jobs and security. Last month the FPO candidate came close to winning Austria’s presidential election.

The 35-page plan, announced by Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern, includes a ban on Muslim veils such as the burka and niqab, which cover all or most of the face.

“We believe in an open society that is also based on open communication. Full-body veils in public spaces stand against that and will therefore be prohibited,” the agreement says, according to the Independent.

Austria, which is mainly Catholic, is home to around 600,000 Muslims in a total population of about 8.7 million.

In early January, Austria's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz called for public servants, including school teachers, to be banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf.

Such a ban would be stricter than laws in France, where only the full body veil is illegal, or Germany, where the highest court in 2015 restricted lawmakers' scope to ban teachers from wearing the headscarf.

Several European countries have moved to ban the face-covering niqab and full-body burqa in recent years.

France was the first country to do so, having introduced a ban on women wearing the burqa in 2010.

A parliamentary committee in Belgium later voted to ban the burqa as well. Italy has drafted a similar law.

In November, the lower house of the Dutch Parliament voted to enforce a ban on burqas and niqabs.

The proposed legislation seeks to ban such face coverings in locations where the ability to identify a person’s face is deemed essential, such as in government buildings, schools, hospitals, and public transport.

In Germany, meanwhile, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has said that the Muslim face veil is not compatible with German society but admitted it would probably be difficult to ban it at the national level.

Despite his remarks, Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that "the full burqa is not suitable here" and added that she would initiate legislation against it.