On Sunday, Austria became yet another European country to ban the Muslim face veil for women.
Other countries include: Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark among others. European countries guilty of the ban have made little effort in the way of justifying their laws on the burqa with some countries giving as weak as an excuse that it merely makes them feel uncomfortable.
The burqa itself has long been a point of controversy and debate in academic, religious and philosophical circles. Some Muslim’s object to it themselves – especially women in liberal countries who see it as a form of oppression and restriction.
Many women have fought hard for their rights to free themselves of the veil and see modesty as just another rule imposed on them by men. But the other side of the feminist coin is undoubtedly a woman’s right to choose.
Muslim women have the right to decide for themselves. Wearing a veil does not have to be a religious rule so much as a personal preference.
Religious and cultural traditions and practices have long enjoyed their own variations across several Muslim countries – from Indonesia to Morocco for example.
But as the Muslim diaspora grows in European countries because of refugees and immigrants it's Muslim women who suffer most from the imposing laws of the Western world and the punishment involves paying a fine as well as facing ridicule, oppression and criticism.
In Austria, Islam is the second biggest religion. Of the women who are Muslim it's only an estimated 100 who wear veils. But the fear of the veil lies in the increase in numbers of its wearer as more and more Muslim women make their way into the country.
The Anti-Face-Veiling Act applies to anyone in public places and buildings, including schools, shopping malls and public transportation.
If women are found breaking the law they’re fined with $175 (R2380) and Muslim tourists are also affected by the new law. It is now compulsory for refugees to attend language courses to learn German and other German values – all in the name of integration.
Unlike countries like Germany and France who have blatantly stated that their bans come as a result of “just not liking it” Austria has tried to find a shallow workaround by stating that the ban is not an act of religious restriction, but rather one that prevents obscurity and promotes transparency. The prohibition also applies to wearing non-religious scarves that obscure the face, play masks and clown paint.
This is a weak effort to guard against an obvious religious discrimination. Can the burqa really be equated with looking like a clown? No. It isn’t the same as the guy for example who stood around San Francisco’s public spaces dressed like IT to scare people off is it?
Imagine if we could be as selective about specific things that affect a select few citizens and contravene their right to practice their religion or any other freedoms just because it made us feel uncomfortable? Or better yet, imagine if masks were illegal for the right reasons to counteract anonymous acts of violence.
But that’s wishful thinking. The world has taught us too many times, that when it comes to policy coercion it’s the women who fall victim.
Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.