Multiple European countries have banned women from wearing veils that cover their face in public, and a lawmaker in Austria went a step further, recently proposing that the nation forbid public servants from wearing any type of headscarf.
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen clearly opposes the ban though, telling students at the House of the European Union that all women should wear hijabs to fight Islamophobia. "If this real and rampant Islamophobia continues," Van der Bellen said in a video of the March speech that was broadcast by the Austrian Broadcasting Corp. last week, "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."
According to The Washington Post, President Van der Bellen cited a story about non-Jewish women wearing the Star of David in Denmark during World War II in solidarity with their Jewish neighbors, pointing to where he got the idea, but that legend is believed to be inaccurate.
Sebastian Kurz, Austria's minister for foreign affairs, announced in January that he's drafting legislation to prohibit public servants, including teachers, from wearing all headscarfs. This proposal is much more restrictive than bans on veils that cover the face, such as the niqab and the burqa, already in place in Austria, as well as Belgium and France.
Laws restricting what type of headscarfs Islamic women can wear in public have swept Europe, beginning in 2011, when France became the first nation to ban full-face veils. Along with national laws aimed at the Islamic veils in public places in France, Austria, and Belgium, lawmakers in the Netherlands have proposed a similar law and individual cities in Spain and Italy have put restrictions on the veils. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also said niqabs and burqas should be banned in her country, and just last week the German Parliament approved banning civil servants, judges, and soldiers from wearing the veils (though it still needs to pass the upper house before becoming law).
Still, headscarfs that don't cover the face, such as hijabs, are legal across Europe, and Austria would be the first country to ban the scarfs that leave women's faces fully visible. President Van der Bellen got a lot of backlash for his comments in opposition to the extreme ban, and he told a reporter in Slovakia, "We should be happy if we don't have bigger problems than the question of the headscarf. I am not a friend of the headscarf, but there is freedom of expression in Austria."
Van der Bellen told the students at the House of the European Union, "It is every woman's right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter."