Thursday, April 12, 2018

Austria's political jihad against the hijab

The current Austrian government of babyfaced Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) and rightwing anti-immigrant HC Strache (FPÖ) is currently proposing a ban on the hijab, the traditional Muslim female head covering, for kids in kindergarten and the early years of grade school.

Carla Amina Baghajati writes that this is a solution for a non-problem (Kopftuchverbot: Symbolpolitik ist billig Standard 09.04.2018) because the number of young children affected is "close to zero." Even traditional Muslim families who promote the hijab for Muslim women don't typically require their young children to wear it.
Diese Symbolpolitik auf dem Rücken der Muslime können auch die bei solchen Gelegenheiten eifrig hervorgekramten Phrasen wie "Verhinderung einer Parallelgesellschaft" (Kurz) oder "Gegen den politischen Islam" (Strache) nicht kaschieren. Da es ohnehin einen gesellschaftlichen Konsens gibt, entlarvt dies den Versuch, selbstkonstruierte Narrative über Muslime als "die anderen" und als Feinde der "eigenen" Wertegemeinschaft einmal mehr zu bedienen. Ist eigentlich noch niemandem aufgefallen, dass man Menschen so ja geradezu in eine "Parallelgesellschaft" drängt?

[This symbolic politics on the backs of Muslims can also not airbrush away the eagerly trotted-out phrases like "Preventing a parallel society" (Kurz) or "Against political Islam" (Strache). Because there is a social consensus anyway, these {slogans} expose the attempt to once again serve up self-constructed narratives about Muslims as "the others" and as enemies of our "own" community of values.]
Stirring up controversies about the hijab is a popular tactic of European xenophobes. It lets them nominally claim to be working for the good of innocent children while stigmatizing them, their parents, and their families' religion as foreign, scary, and threatening.

Hypocrisy is a common companion to politics. But this use of Muslim children for hate slogans is callously cynical. It's an inversion of the normal human understand of what a child symbolizes, which one would hope would be the image of the "Christian" civilization that European Islamophobes claim to be defending. A child, like the very Christian image of the Baby Jesus, is normally a symbol of innocence that needs to be protected and defended. The image of Muslim kindergarten girls as something to be afraid of, as symbols of a series of anti-Muslim bogeymen - "Islamization," "Sharia," "parallel society," "Salafi," "political Islam," "Islamic terrorism" - makes the symbol of a child something to be feared and hated, excluded and rejected.

Another aspect here is that "Kopftuch" in German is used for both the hijab and headscarf. Which means that the Islamophobes are telling us that we should be terrified of girls in headscarfs, including kindergarten children. "Hijab" at least has a more exotic sound in Western countries.

We see the same approach with American xenophobes hyperventilating about "anchor babies."

I attended part of a conference this past weekend at UC-Berkeley on "Reconciling Islamic and European Civil Laws." Mathias Rohe, Director of the Erlangen Centre for Islam & Law in Europe (EZIRE), spoke on the real-life issues involved in "The Informal Application of Islamic Legal Norms in Germany - Scope and Limits." Islamophobes like to claim that certain sections of [fill in far-away city of your choice] are completely controlled by Sharia (Islamic law). One of the things he made clear is that in the Western European countries, including Austria and Germany, that civil law (he used the term "mandatory law" also) supersedes religious law. Questions of conflicts between sharia and secular/mandatory law mostly arise in questions of family law. That obviously includes questions of what marriages are recognized by civil law and issues relating to divorce. It also comes up in such issues as refugees obtaining proper documentation for marriages performed in their home countries.

In Austria and Germany, the civil law does not recognize religious marriages and vice versa. The Catholic Church doesn't recognize civil marriages as valid under Catholic canon law, and the Austrian state does not consider a Church marriage valid under civil law. And married couple in both Austria and Germany can conclude prenuptial agreements or other contractual arrangements that may incorporate elements of religious law, including Muslim religious law. Secular/mandatory law will recognize those contracts as valid insofar as they do not contradict mandatory law. Any contractual provision that contradicts civil law is unenforceable in the courts.

Citizen and non-citizen residents in Austria and Germany have access to the legal system and can seek protection against any kind of coercion that violates mandatory law. Rohe talked about how one significant problem among Muslim immigrants is that many of them simply do not know that they can go to the law for redress against things like attempts to force them to do something under religious law that is not sanctioned by secular law. Of course, religious or other kinds of cults, as well as criminal gangs, may create a situation in which their members are fearful or otherwise reluctant to seek help from the law. But it's simply not the case that the government and legal systems in Austria and Germany allow "parallel societies" in which religious law overrides secular law. It's just not so.

Rohe mentioned that the only significant Muslim attempt to build "parallel structures" in Germany occurs among Salafists, of whom he estimates that there are 10-15,000 in Germany among a total 4.5 million Muslims. The "parallel society" slogan int he EU context is deeply dishonest and used in very bad faith.

This summary at EZIRE of an interview with Mattias Rohe describes a recent interest in which the German courts result against a local attempt to promote Sharia: Mathias Rohe comments on “Sharia Police”-Verdict.

The Bertelsmann Foundation provides these facts about the Muslim population of Austria in Muslims in Europe: Integrated but not accepted? (2017):
Approximately 500,000 Muslims live in Austria. At 6.2 to 6.8 percent of the population, their representation is higher there than in Germany. As in Germany, the immigration landscape is largely characterized by Turkish guest workers and migrant workers. There is also a relatively large group of refugees from the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. According to the current Religion Monitor data, 74 percent of the Muslims in Austria come from Turkey and 24 percent from Southeastern Europe. Also, 64 percent are Sunnis and only 4 percent Shiites, of whom more than 18 percent are Alevites. More Muslims in Austria (67 percent) belong to the first generation of immigrants than in Germany; only 32 percent represent the second generation. Of all the countries studied, Austria is home to the youngest Muslim population, on average. At just 35 years old, they also exhibit the greatest difference from the average age of the non-Muslim population (49 years old). ...

In Austria, Islam has been legally recognized as a religious community for more than 100 years. According to the ICRI index, this results in a relatively good legal situation for Muslim religious communities. For example, Austria was the first European country to introduce Islamic religious instruction in schools. Nevertheless, the social climate toward Muslims is particularly tense in Austria. Rejection of Muslims as neighbors reaches its highest level in the five-country comparison [in that particular study], with a share of 28 percent.

88 percent of Muslims feel closely connected with Austria. While this value is high, it is the lowest among the four countries studied. Routine leisure time contact with people of other religions, at 62 percent, is also less common than in the other countries. Also, 68 percent of Muslims report having experienced discrimination, the highest level among Muslims in the five-country comparison. [my emphasis]

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