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Swedish teachers protest municipality Muslim veil ban

Sweden's national education body is powerless to intervene in the municipal decision [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 January, 2020

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Non-Muslim teachers donned the face-veil to protest a municipal ban on all forms of Islamic headgear, passed through the municipal council last year, by a coalition right-wing, populist parties.

Non-Muslim teachers at a school in the southern Swedish municipality of Skurup arrived at work wearing face-veils on Tuesday, in a collective show of solidarity with Muslim students, following a controversial ban on all forms of Muslim headgear.

"The students get excited when they see that we also have veils. They feel that we support them," one teacher at Prästamosseskolan School, who teaches Swedish as a second language, told Aftonbladet.

In December last year, the city council of Skurup approved a motion to ban headscarves, burqas, niqabs and other garments which form the dress codes for some Muslims.

A coalition of right-leaning, populist parties, including the Sweden Democrats and The Moderate Party, passed the bill through the municipal government by 22 votes to 19.

The ban, which will be implemented within the next six months, will apply to the town of Skurup as well as the surrounding municipality's schools and preschools.

Prästamosseskolan headmaster Mattias Liedholm has taken a defiant stance against the decision.

"Neither I nor any of my colleagues will enforce it. It will then become a matter for the municipality to deal with."

Andreas Lindholm, a lawyer from Sweden's National Agency for Education, showed justification for Liedholm’s stance.

"We believe that prohibitions on headscarves run contrary to the European Convention on Freedom of Religion."

Yet the national educational body has no power to intervene in the municipal ruling, which was met with a spontaneous applause by local politicians when passed, according to Sputnik, a Russian state news agency.

On Monday afternoon, a group of 250 young Muslims from the city of Malmö demonstrated outside the town hall in Skurup.

"The ban is denying Muslim women the right to their own bodies and deprives them of their democratic rights and freedom of choice. It is a racist policy," said Tasnim Raoog, chairman of a Malmo-based Muslim organisation. 

They were met by dozens of counter-protesters who chanted slogans such "Freedom for Swedes" and "Close Islam", along with placards plastered with Islamaphobic slogans. 

Those who proposed the ban, such as Sweden Democrats group leader Lars Nytstrom, see it as a measure which ostensibly protects women from oppression.

"Our basic belief is that boys and girls have equal worth. Clothing that covers a woman’s faces does not belong in Skurup," Nytstrom said.

School staff will be required to comply with the ban once it is enforced. In the event, Naouel Aissaui, a Muslim teacher at Prästamosseskolan, declared her refusal to turn up to her workplace.

"I'll stay at home. I'm not going to take off my veil. The decision is not legal. It only shows racism," she said.

Skurup is both a town and seat of Skurup Municipality, with nearly 7,500 inhabitants.

In the 2018 election, the right-wing Skurup made major gains in the region, winning 26.1 percent of the vote.

The party has its ideological roots in Swedish fascism, starting in the 1990s as a fringe white nationalist movement, growing to secure a staggering 17.6 percent of the national vote in 2018.

Muslims in Sweden number around 800 000, over eight percent of the country's population, and face rising Islamophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment, inflated by right-leaning parties, who continue to claim that a tide of "Islamisation" is creeping into the country.

The acceptance of various Islamic headdresses has become an increasingly hot topic in Sweden.


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