The “Prohibition of the Covering of the Face Act,” a.k.a. the anti-burqa law, came into effect in Austria on Sunday, banning women from covering their faces with veils, scarves, ski masks away from the slopes, and even surgical masks. While the law is not specific about the religion of its targets, as it applies to non-religious facial coverings as well, but no Austrian in his or her right mind see it as anything but an attack on the extreme modesty of Muslim women – which is often perceived as being enforced by their zealous husbands.
Violators could be fined about $230, and police have been authorized to use force in removing women’s face covers.
The new law, enacted by outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern’s government, states, in tones reminiscent of past, darker times: “Acceptance and respect of Austrian values are basic conditions for successful cohabitation between the majority Austrian population and people from third countries living in Austria.”
In other words, the old “other” is gone, with its yellow star badges, from Austria’s streets, time to deal with the new “other.”
It’s also clear that the new law, which received broad support in public opinion surveys, is Kern’s reelection stunt in advance of Austria’s general election on October 15. Kern’s Social Democrats are trailing the Christian Democrats in the polls, 24.6% to 33%, marking a right-wing trend—also reminiscent of darker times—with strong anti-immigrant sentiments ruling the day.
A News.com.au’s man-on-the-street interview featured one Emma Schwaiger who said: “It’s not right that those living here don’t show their faces.” Five out of seven of the new law’s supporters have said they would vote for the Freedom Party and the People’s Party.
According to The Telegraph, only a few Muslim women in Austria wear the full burqa, so that the new law is more about sentiment than about solving a real public nuisance, like similar laws in France and other EU countries. The law applies to tourists as well, including those rich Saudis who will hit the slopes in the approaching winter.