Tu Felix Austria? The Headscarf and the Politics of ‘Non-Issues’
Posted: 12 Aug 2009
Date Written: Winter 2008
Austria has one of the most tolerant regulations concerning the expression of religious beliefs and practices in the public realm in Europe. Concerning the headscarf, the Austrian legislation does not know any restrictions on wearing headgear-neither for cultural nor for security reasons - if wearing a veil is clearly related to religious reasons. These liberal legal regulations have even been strengthened during the recent years. In line with this legal framework, public disputes over religious attire worn in public institutions have remained rather modest in Austria compared with other Western liberal democracies. However, the tolerant legal regulations are contrasted with rather palpable racist attitudes within the Austrian population, the recent adoption of restrictive immigration and integration policies and right-wing parties that systematically foster sentiments against immigrants. This paper explores these diverging policy-strategies by focusing on structures and institutions that account for Austria's tolerant approach towards veiling and argues that it is the legacy of Austria's “pluralistically inclusive” state-church relation, which provides special institutional structures and procedures to deal with religious issues as well as the dominant framing that constitute the tolerant context for Muslim practices. By focusing on the current headscarf debates, the paper indicates that this silent compromise is getting fragile due to the re-framing strategies of right-wing parties in the context of an ethno-cultural citizenship regime that describes Muslims in Austria as cultural or ethnic and not as religious others.
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