Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Austria Bans Burqa, All Veils Covering Facial Features | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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This woman is wearing what is often called a burka, but is actually a niqab; her body and face are covered except her eyes. (Phil Noble: Reuters)

Vienna- Police in the Vorarlberg district, Austria, has launched its preparations to implement a law banning all veils that cover facial features. The new law will come into force within few days on the 1st of October.

The Vorarlberg district on the country’s western borders was the first to announce its readiness for the law’s implementation, other districts highlighted some practical obstacles they might face them, and pointed out the importance of benefiting from the experiences of the neighboring European countries that paced Austria in this matter.

The law’s most debatable article is the ban of the burqa and all kinds of a veil that cover all the face.

The other articles prohibit the distribution of Quran copies in public places and roads and oblige asylum seekers to attend one-year integration courses to learn the German language, the values of the Austrian society, and the importance of voluntary works.

The authorities said the financial aid provided by the government will be suspended in case individuals didn’t commit to the new law.

When introduced as a bill to the Parliament, the law raised objections and was considered a direct interference with individual freedom, while the majority saw it as a direct measure to enhance integration and ensure security in Austria. According to the law, violations will cost a fine of 150 euros, and even a prison sentence.

For its part, local media outlets have promoted pictures for the allowed and prohibited veils. The Saudi Embassy in Austria informed its citizens about the new law and the “niqab” ban and requested them to respect the new law during their presence on the Austrian territories.

Commenting on the new law, women wearing a burqa in Vienna told “Asharq Al-Awsat” that the new law is just a pressure tool to keep in line with “Islamophobia” campaigns and to help right-winged voices win, especially that Austria is preparing for a fierce parliamentary election battle in mid-October.

Tourists rejected the law and said they are ready to pay the fine in order to commit to their convictions, given that they are visitors staying in Austria for limited periods, which means they are not seeking integration into the country.

Austrian liberal groups have opposed the law, not because they support the burqa and veil, but because they are committed to defending the individual freedom in outfit selection.

The tourism sector and local and international stores also expressed concerns regarding the impacts of the new law on the visits of Gulf tourists and the huge sums they spend compared with other tourists from other nationalities, including the Chinese and Russian nouveau-riches, along with Americans, Japanese and Germans visitors.