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News 23 Aug 17

Bosnia, Kosovo Dismiss Austrian Claim About 'Paid' Veils

The Austrian Foreign Minister's claim that women in Bosnia and Kosovo are being paid to wear full veils has drawn criticism from political and religious leaders there.

Igor Spaic, Perparim Isufi
Sarajevo, Pristina
Austrian FM Sebastian Kurz. Photo: Dragan Tatic/Flickr

Religious and political authorities in Bosnia and Kosovo have dismissed a statement of Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz that women in Bosnia and Kosovo are being paid to wear full veils.

Besa Ismaili, Vice Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Pristina, Kosovo, told BIRN there is no proof anyone in the country is paying women to wear a veil, and called the assertion “offensive” and “harmful”.

“If a veiled girl is expelled from the school, loses her job, does not enjoy financial equality and economic and political opportunities due to the veil, what financial benefit are we talking about here?" she asked.

“This has no logic, but is part of the Islamophobic campaigns coming from European rightists,” she said, adding that the veil has been worn by Muslim women in the region for centuries.

“Veiled women in Kosovo today are in the margins of margins of the society, [living] in extreme poverty, [facing] tremendous discrimination… and on top of that, someone speaks about them receiving money. This is shameful,” Ismaili added.

Kurz made the statement to German newspaper Handelsblatt on August 21, while warning of the growing influence of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Europe.

“In Sarajevo and Pristina, for example, women are paid to wear the full veil in public,” Kurz told the newspaper.

The goal of this, claimed Kurz, was to change the appearance of communities, the newspaper reported on Monday.

Bosnia’s Security Minister, Dragan Mektic, said he had never received such reports. “I have no such information. I talked to our security services, and they also do not have such information. I have no idea what it is based on,” he told local N1 news channel on Tuesday, adding he would contact the Austrian security services to find out where this report came from.

Bosnia’s Islamic Community, in a press release, also said they also did not know of such cases. “We accept minister Kurz's advice for EU institutions to pay more attention to the Western Balkans as well intentioned and we understand his concern about the current situation, but we believe he did not find the right example to illustrate it,” the Islamic Community said.

“We know that there is an ongoing election campaign in Austria and that everyone is using hardline rhetoric. But, as we advise our politicians in the Balkans, we also think that in the rest of Europe it would be best if religion and religious feelings of individuals were not politicised and brought into the political arena,” the statement read.

While many Bosnian Muslim women wear a headscarf, few wear a full veil. It is not considered traditional Muslim attire in the country, and is widely perceived as Middle Eastern.

Many in Bosnia believe it indicates an affinity for Salafism/Wahabism – a radicalised interpretation of Islamic teachings frowned upon by most Bosnian Muslims.

The official Islamic Community has for years opposed such radicalised groups - some of which, it believes, are based in Vienna.

For example, authorities in Bosnia believe that Jusuf Barcic, a self-proclaimed hardline Muslim leader, was financed by a group of radicals based in Vienna, led by Muhamed Porca who studied with Barcic in Saudi Arabia.

Porca has called for the establishment of a parallel, more militant, Islamic Community in Bosnia.

Mevlid Jasarevic, who is now serving an 18-year jail sentence for firing at the US embassy in Sarajevo in October 2011, may also have been influenced by time spent in Vienna, according to his mother.

Jasarevic’s mother told the media that her son had visited mosques together with a group of Wahabis in Vienna.

In 2007, the former head of the Islamic Community, Mustafa efendi Ceric, told the media that radical elements based in Austria were a major source of the ideology that was trying to change the moderate tradition of Bosnia’s Muslims.

NOTE: This article has been amended on August 25 to clarify that Handelsblatt is a German newspaper. The previous version mistakenly said that it was Austrian.

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