VIENNA, 23 December 2003 — Female Muslim students facing bans from the French and German public education systems for wearing headscarves are starting to flock to Austria where the scarves are no problem at all.
“There’s freedom for headscarves in Austria,” said the Vienna Turkish-language monthly magazine Yeni Hareket (New Movement). A teacher was allowed to wear one, and so were her students.
Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel pointed out in the magazine Profil there was no restriction on religious symbols or clothing, whatever the religion: “Here, a nun can give religious instruction in schools. Austria is an example of tolerance. We don’t have to import all our discussions from Germany.”
In Germany a number of states are working on laws banning headscarves in schools and universities.
The government of the state of Bavaria has already approved a ban. It sees the scarves as a “political symbol” and wants the public protected from what it perceives as fundamentalist influences.
In France, which does not allow religious instruction in public schools, President Jacques Chirac urged the Parliament to pass a law banning headscarves and other visible symbols of religion in schools.
It was necessary in order that the country’s youth would not be “exposed to an evil wind that divided (them),” he said in a reference to religious fanaticism.
The French law is also expected to ban visible symbols of other religions in schools, including Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses.
Pupils will still be allowed to wear discreet symbols of faith.
Many of the female Muslim students in Vienna are graduates of the Turkish Islamic Imam Hatep schools.
They have qualified for university-level education, but are not allowed to study in secular Turkey because they refuse to take off their headscarves.
In Turkey, millions of women in fact wear headscarves and nobody minds. However, the head covering is not allowed for employees in public service, whether in ministries, courts, city halls, banks, hospitals, or educational institutes.