Seven in 10 back burka ban

A vast majority of Austrians want an anti-burka law, according to a new poll.

Viennese public opinion agency Karmasin spoke with 500 Austrians to find that 71 per cent of them were in favour of such a law prohibiting wearing burkas in public places. Such veils cover women’s bodies expect a small gap for their eyes. Only 23 per cent spoke out against the introduction of such a bylaw, Karmasin found in its survey conducted for weekly magazine profil.

There are no figures on how many Muslim women living in Austria wear burkas which are considered by some as a sign that they are repressed by their religious husbands. While newspapers speculate that most burka-wearing women were wealthy tourists on shopping sprees in Vienna and other holiday hotspots, Social Democratic (SPÖ) Minister for Women Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek revealed she could imagine implementing an anti-burka regulation similar to restrictions in France, Belgium and other European countries.

News that more than seven in 10 Austrians speak out in favour of an anti-burka wearing bylaw may intensify the public and political debate whether Austria has done enough to help Muslim immigrants integrating in the society. Research shows that only four in 10 Turkish women living in Austria have a job while around 68 per cent of Austrian women are employed.

Right-wing political forces have succeeded by campaigning against Muslim immigrants. The Freedom Party (FPÖ) may feel confirmed in its anti-Muslim course over news that a Muslim doctor resigned as vice president of the Austrian Islamic Denomination (IGGiÖ) for claiming that doing sports was unhealthy for women. Ahmet Hamidi caused a public outcry by announcing that the female organism was harmed by physical activity.

Fuat Sanac, the new head of the IGGiÖ, defended Hamidi. Sanac told Die Presse newspaper the ex-IGGIÖ deputy chief was misquoted. “He meant extreme sport but said ‘too much sport.’ (…) Hamidi is a good doctor. He encourages everybody to do lots of sport.”

Sanac also revealed the IGGiÖ was currently cooperating with the Economy Chamber (WKO) and the ministry for women over developing a programme which should help encouraging Muslim women to take on work.

“I’m permanently appealing to (Muslims living in Austria) to learn German and take care of their children’s education. (…) Pressure is needed, of course – but also motivation,” Sanac told Die Presse.

People’s Party (ÖVP) Integration State Secretary Sebastian Kurz – whose faction forms a federal government coalition with the SPÖ – reiterated his appeal that all imams working in Austria must lecture and preach in German. Sanac told Die Presse he backed the ÖVP official’s proposal. Sanac said: “Believers come from many countries. They have many different mother tongues. That is why we need one mutual language.”

Kurz said Muslim immigrants should learn German and participate in the society “to feel as self-confident Muslims and Austrians” at the same time. The ÖVP Vienna deputy leader added the “focus in this heated debate must be set on opportunities, not problems.”
Sanac’s predecessor as president of the IGGiÖ, Anas Schakfeh, waded into controversy in 2010 by expressing the hope that all of Austria’s nine provincial capitals will have their own mosques. FPÖ General Secretary Harald Vilimsky hit back by branding mosques as “hotbeds of radical Islam.”

Schakfeh, who was born in Syria, tried to calm down the discussion by explaining he was asked for his long-term visions. Schakfeh headed the IGGiÖ since 1987 before Turkish-born Sanac took over last June.

Karmasin polled 500 Austrians a few days after Schakfeh’s initial appeal for more mosques was published. With 52 per cent, more than one in two Austrians rejected his suggestion. There are only three mosques in Austria at the moment. IGGiÖ representatives have emphasised that they have no plans to build any new ones in the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, a growing number of political analysts, sociologists and newspaper columnists criticise that most Austrians seem to think of Muslims when the coexistence of themselves and foreigners was debated. Germans are the largest group of immigrants in Austria. More than 500,000 of the 8.5 million people living in the Alpine country are Muslims. Their number is on the rise while a soaring number of people have left the Roman Catholic Church in the past few years.