By Christian Ortner
Is it permissible in a liberal democracy for the state to legally stipulate how women are to dress — and especially how not to dress — in public? Under certain circumstances, absolutely, decided the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg the week, thereby confirming the Belgian state’s right to criminalize full veiling of women in public. A Muslim woman had entered a complaint against this 2011 law and was rejected by the highest European court.
This has relevance for Austria too. A very similar regulation, forbidding especially wearing the niqab and the (less frequently seen) burka, goes into effect here on October 1st. The chances that this law will be nullified by the European Court are therefore next to nil. And that is good.
The sight of a woman more or less compulsorily fully veiled is nothing less than obscene. It is a good thing for legislators to put end to this obscenity, at least in public. Even though liberals must naturally respect the right of every person to decide how he or she will dress. That is, in and of itself, of no interest to the state, like so much else.
In the case of full veiling, or course, we are dealing not only with clothing, but above all with a symbol of a fascistic, violence-prone and deeply misogynistic ideology, i.e., political Islam in a particularly radical manifestation. The niqab and burka belong to a nasty ideology, as SS uniforms belong to National Socialism. Both are a political statement, if not a profession of loyalty.
There is good reason that it is forbidden here to saunter through the Kohlmarkt in an SS uniform; and with equally good reason, it should be forbidden to symbolically occupy the public space with the vestments of Islamism.
Symbols of the Islamic State are likewise banned. The argument that this contravenes the constitutional right to freely practice one’s religion does not apply. First, no woman is even close to being prevented from practicing her religion just because she will henceforth have to show her face in public. Second, nowhere in Islam is there a commandment for full veiling.
The objection that the state doesn’t have any other regulations for clothing in public is without substance. Anyone who believes that should try taking a walk along Mariahilferstrasse stark naked, and find out what the police and then the courts will do. Even today, in a system of political freedom, it is natural for the state to intervene in the freedom of dressing as one pleases.
Political Islam is attempting to turn the liberalism of the West against it. The European Court decreeing unity in this matter is good news.