Austrian Women: Wear the Hijab to Show Your Solidarity for Women’s Rights!

In the Austrian presidential election almost a year ago, the Green candidate Alexander van der Bellen defeated Norbert Hofer of the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, Austrian Freedom Party). After investigators discovered, ahem, irregularities in the postal votes, the run-off was rescheduled for later in the year. Mr. Van der Bellen won again, and became the president of Austria.

The new president caused a stir recently when he talked about a woman’s right to wear hijab. His reaction to criticism was even more controversial, as you will see. But first a brief report from the Austrian state broadcaster ORF. Many thanks to Egri Nök for the translation, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling:

We don’t have a full translation yet, but the gist of Pres. Van der Bellen’s response to his critics is that he was highlighting the oppression of veiled women, whose garments he compared with the forced wearing of the yellow Star of David by Jews during Nazi times.

Now, that’s weird enough. I thought we were supposed to be showing solidarity with women who choose to wear hijab! Did the Jews wear the yellow star as a free choice? Are hijab-wearing women being persecuted? The analogy is ludicrous and incoherent.

To top it all off, he compared what he was advocating to the Danes’ wearing of the yellow star during the war in solidarity with Danish Jews. Not only is the comparison inapt, but the Danish story is a myth — a pleasant, heart-warming story, but a myth nonetheless — it didn’t happen.

Such is the current president of Austria.

Video transcript:

00:00 The first three months are over — since end of January,
00:04 Alexander van der Bellen has been the Austrian Federal President. Time to ask,
00:08 how well did the former professor of economics and chief of the Greens
00:12 do in office; and how does he carry out his functions as chief of state?
00:17 The things that are part of the daily life of a new Federal President:
00:21 daily official duties, first foreign travels, speeches and discussions.
00:25 Such as here, with youths, in the “House of the European Union” in Vienna.
00:29 Yes I do believe that we have to rediscover something like a European spirit,
00:33 Such a — a spirit, an en—, an enthusiasm, for the idea of — of European unity.
00:40 This is how Alexander van der Bellen sounds when he speaks representing the interests of the state.
00:44 In the subsequent discussion, he chats casually.
00:48 Now, every single word is no longer picked cautiously.
00:51 His speechwriters in the Hofburg would word it differently.
00:54 It is every woman’s right — do men wear the hijab, too? No, right?
01:00 It is every woman’s right to dress exactly as she pleases.
01:04 That is my opinion on this.
01:09 And by the way, not just Muslim women: every woman can wear a headscarf.
01:13 And if things continue like this — which brings me to the next question —
01:17 in light of manifestly rampant Islamophobia,
01:20 the day will come where we will have to ask all women
01:24 to wear a headscarf — all!
01:28 In solidarity with those who wear it for religious reasons.


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