22 Oct 2017

The bungled burqa ban 

Questionable to begin with, the infamous law against face coverings in Austria isn't working in the way intended. Instead of targetting Mulsim women, it's affected mascots and people who get cold easily.

Julia Sahlender
Julia Sahlender Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
The bungled burqa ban  - NewsMavens
Are these girls laughing at burqa ban fails? Henrik Hansson - Globaljuggler/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Why this story matters:

Three weeks ago, on 1 Oct., the infamous law against face coverings in Austria came into effect. Since then it has become quite clear that the law, questionable to begin with, isn't even properly doing what it was intended to do.

It was supposed to stop Muslim women from covering their faces with a burqa or a niqab, that's why most people also refer to the law as a "burqa ban". But because the lawmakers in question were afraid of their law being deemed unconstitutional, and rightfully so, because freedom of religion is an important constitutional right, they decided to make a law banning all types of face coverings.

Even before the law took effect critics were voicing their concerns. Apart from the obvious discrimination against Muslim women it was noted that the restrictions might be confusing or even arbitrary.

The respective cases from the past 3 weeks clearly show that the law is not as effective as its creators might have hoped. So far, it has affected several different mascots, a group of street musicians playing in horse masks, cyclists wearing scarves and only 4 women actually wearing one of the two coverings in question.

A 28 year old psychologist, who has been affected by the ban, has now decided to try and overturn it. The woman was on her way home one evening wearing a thick wool scarf, that, according to a selfie she took after the incident, covered the lower half of her face whenever she was looking down at her phone, but not when she was looking straight ahead.

Regardless, she was held up by two police officers, asked for ID, and fined. The woman has shared her story, about how powerless she felt in that situation, on her Facebook page. After the story gained some attention the media decided to run it. 

After that, she says she was met with a lot of sexist and hateful comments. But she is still fighting the criminal charges against her and her lawyer says he's willing to go up to the European Court of Human Rights in order to overturn the "anti-burqa" law.

Details from the story:

  • A law against face coverings came into effect on 1 Oct. 2017. 
  • It was met with a lot of criticism because people thought it was discriminating against Muslim women and their freedom of religion.
  • In order to be constitutional the law does not specifically ban the burqa or the niqab but the act of covering one's face without a specific reason - like wearing a mask for health reasons or wearing a costume during an event like carnival.
  • In order to inform tourists about the new law police officers are handing out pamphlets with the new guidelines at the Viennese airport.
  • So far, there were 30 reported incidents regarding the new law and, according to officials, only 4 of them were Muslim women covering their faces.
  • An Algerian-French businessman has proclaimed that he will pay all of the fines in connection with the "burqa ban".

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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