VIENNA – Denouncing rising Islamophobia in the country, the President of Austria called on all women to wear a hijab for one day in solidarity with Muslim women facing regular abuses.
“It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants, that is my opinion on the matter,” Alexander Van der Bellen told an audience of school pupils, The Independent reported.
“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.”
Van der Bellen, a left-wing former Green Party leader who took the office after defeating a far-right candidate, was responding to a question from a schoolgirl who argued a ban on Islamic headscarves or veils would reduce women to their appearance and shut some out of the labor market.
His comments were made in March but emerged after being broadcast on Austrian television, amid debate in the country and neighboring Germany about “burqa bans”.
In a later statement, Van der Bellen added that Muslim representatives in Austria should make “clearer statements” emphasizing that the atrocities could not be justified within Islam.
“He also warned against ‘racism from the other side’, giving the example of a Muslim taxi driver refusing to take Orthodox Jews,” the statement said, adding: “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Austrian Muslims are estimated at about nearly 6 percent of the European country’s 8 million population.
In Vienna, Islam is the second-largest religious grouping, after Roman Catholicism.