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Austrian lawmaker wears headscarf to Parliament in protest at hijab ban

An Austrian lawmaker has worn a headscarf during her address against a controversial bill that prohibits primary school girls across the country from wearing hijab — Muslim women’s modest clothing.

Martha Bissmann, an independent MP, covered her hair during a general assembly speech on Friday to protest the measure, saying, “Let’s not allow a wedge to be driven between us.”

The ban was approved after lawmakers from Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s ruling conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the anti-migration Freedom Party (FPÖ) — who have formed a majority government together — voted in its favor. Under the new legislation, it would be illegal for Muslim girls under the age of 10 to wear hijab at all primary schools, including private schools.

Almost all opposition lawmakers voted against the measure condemning it as “discriminatory.”

Bissmann accused the FPÖ of promoting “racism and Islamophobia” in the country over the last decade. She said that those who introduced the ban wanted to eliminate “high values such as tolerance and freedom of religion.”

 “This is the first step to ban headscarves in everyday life,” she added.

Austria’s official Muslim community organization (IGGOe) also condemned the move as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic.”

A large number of non-governmental organizations, journalists and activists also expressed their opposition to the ban.

The country is home to around 700,000 Muslims.

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‘Criminalizing Muslims’

Turkish lawmaker Mustafa Yeneroglu, also thanked Bissmann for supporting the Muslim community in her country and expressed his disapproval of the law, saying Austria is trying to criminalize the Muslim religion.

“Muslims in Austria are increasingly being pushed out of society and Muslim religiosity is being criminalized,” the lawmaker said.

“The law is aimed exclusively at Muslims. A liberal legal system does not show its qualities with ideologically motivated prohibitions, specially in dealing with minorities,” he added.

German linguist,Emel Erdem commended Bissmann for her “courageous” move.

“What a courageous gesture, what a courageous statement! They strengthen my belief in a peaceful coexistence – many thanks for that, all the best for their future and warm greetings from Germany!” she wrote in a Twitter message.

Austria’s right-wing parties have proposed several controversial measures against the Muslim community, including strict controls on mosques and Muslim associations as well as an immediate closing of mosques in cases of “suspicious activity.”

Austria’s previous government had also prohibited full-face veils in courts, schools and other public places. It has banned judges, police officers, magistrates and public prosecutors from wearing hijab.

Similar restrictions, commonly referred to as the “Burqa Ban,” have also been adopted in some other European Union countries like, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

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