The Austrian President has called on all women to wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslims to counter “rampant Islamophobia”.
President Alexander Van der Bellen, the former left-wing Green Party leader who just about beat a far-right candidate to take office earlier in January, said freedom of expression was a fundamental right.
He told an audience of school pupils that, “It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter.
“And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf, and if this real and rampant Islamaphobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all – out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”
President Van der Bellen’s comments were in response to a question from a schoolgirl who argued for a hijab and niqab ban that she believed would reduce women to their physical appearance and isolate some out of the labour market.
The comments which were made in March amid debate in Austria and neighbouring Germany about “burqa bans”.
The President’s office said he supported bans in specific circumstances, such as for female judges, where religious attire could raise concerns over their professional impartiality.
Mr Van der Bellen would apply prohibitions to all religious symbols, including Jewish kippas and Christian kippas.
But the coalition-led government also agreed to prevent judges, magistrates, public prosecutors and police officers from wearing the hijab in the interest of appearing “ideologically and religiously neutral”.
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