VIENNA (Dispatches) -- Austrian MPs have approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling rightwing government.
The text refers to any "ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.
Representatives of both parts of the governing coalition, the centre-right People’s party (ضVP) and the far-right Freedom party (FPض), have made it clear that despite its wide description, the law is targeted at the Islamic headscarf.
The government said the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys and the Jewish kippa would not be affected. Medical bandages and protection from rain or snow are also not covered by the law approved on Wednesday.
Austria’s official Muslim community organization, IGGض, has condemned the proposals as "shameless” and a "direct assault on the religious freedom of Austrian Muslims”. The organization has signaled that it will seek to challenge the validity of the law at Austria’s constitutional court.
The ضVP and FPض formed a coalition in late 2017 after elections in which both parties took a tough anti-immigration stance and warned of the dangers of "parallel societies”. The Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said in April 2018: "Covering up small children is definitely not something for which there should be space in our country.”
In a speech on Wednesday, the bestselling Austrian-German novelist Daniel Kehlmann condemned Kurz’s leadership. "I want to ask our silent chancellor very matter-of-factly whether he is fully aware that history books of the future will remember him as the man who enabled a party of rightwing extremists to damage the outer image and inner fabric of this country to such an extent that it will soon no longer be repairable.”
Kurz oversaw an Austrian ban on full-face coverings in 2017, introduced as part of an "integration” policy aimed at limiting the visibility of Islam in public life. It was criticized by police after it mainly resulted in the issuing of warnings against people wearing smog masks, skiing gear and animal costumes.
Denmark enacted a ban on the wearing of face veils in public in 2018, joining other EU countries including France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, and the German state of Bavaria.