This European Burqa Ban Could Punish Wearing a Scarf in Summer—But Folk Dancers in Demon Masks Are Exempt

It can be tricky being a politician designing policy. You start out with a bold, simple aim, then end up mired in regulatory purgatory.

So it goes for the designers of Austria’s so-called “burqa ban.” Like France and Belgium, Austria is aimed at stopping Muslim women from wearing full face veils, including the niqab (which covers everything but the eyes) and the burqa (which covers the whole face). But this headline-grabbing aspiration has led to a forest of complex clarifications and exemptions.

The problem is that to avoid legal challenges on grounds of discrimination, the government cannot pass a law that bans only Muslim dress. Instead, the new ban applies to face coverings more widely, and anybody violating it could face a 150-euro fine.

"Anyone who conceals or conceals his or her facial features in public places or in public buildings by means of clothing or other objects in such a way that makes them unrecognizable is committing an administrative offense,” reads the law, according to local publication Wiener Zeitung.

A lot of people wear face coverings in forms beside Islamic dress, so the government has had to come up with a bewildering array of caveats to the law.

For example, Wiener Zeitung reports, if you’re wearing a face covering within the scope of an artistic or a cultural event, you should be fine. Good news, then, for traditional Alpine folk dancers who dress up as a hideous horned goat-monster called Krampus as part of the traditional winter Perchtenlauf parade.

And during winter, if you want to wrap a scarf around your face, that’s OK too: Face coverings adopted "due to weather conditions (for example, as a protection against frost)" are permitted, which is good in often-freezing Austria. Just be careful when the weather gets warmer: If you’re still wearing the woolly garment come summertime, you might expect a word from a cop.

As for respiratory protection masks, you can only wear those if you have a proven medical reason, such as a smog warning, or need them for your job. The newspaper warns that East Asian tourists, many of whom often wear such protection, may need to have this mentioned to them.

 


 

 

Austria’s ban comes after the European People’s Party, a continent-wide conservative group of political parties, recommended bans on the full face veil across Europe earlier this year, “both for reasons of security and because seeing one another’s faces is an integral part of human interaction in Europe.”

But critics say that whatever your views on the burqa, state bans can have the opposite of the intended effect.

Agnès de Féo, a sociologist and filmmaker who has studied the impact of the ban in France, told The Local in 2015 that it had had disastrous national security consequences. "Those who have left to go and fight in Syria say that this law is one of things that encouraged them,” she said. “They saw it as a law against Islam.”

She concluded: “We created a monster.”

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