Danish military unit involved in headscarf row

By JAN M. OLSEN (AP) – 10 hours ago,


COPENHAGEN — A Danish military unit has become embroiled in a dispute about Muslim headscarves after it allowed a hijab-wearing woman to complete a training course.

The Home Guard, a home defense corps of thousands of volunteer soldiers, does not allow headscarves and violated that rule when it allowed Maria Mawla, 27, to wear one during its 10-day basic training program, spokesman Joergen Jensen said Monday.

“We made a mistake internally,” Jensen told The Associated Press.

The issue became national news in Denmark after the populist Danish People’s Party, known for its anti-Muslim outbursts, expressed shock over an article about Mawla posted on the Home Guard’s Web site.

The July 14 article, which has now been removed, described Mawla as a devout Muslim of Lebanese origin who said her headscarf posed no practical obstacles during training. A picture with the article showed her wearing a green headscarf under a camouflage hat.

“I must say that I’m shocked to discover that the Home Guard not only allows members to wear the Muslim headscarf, but also boasts about it,” Ib Poulsen, the Danish People’s Party’s spokesman on defense issues, said in a statement. It demanded that the Home Guard ban the Muslim headscarf, calling it a symbol of oppression of women and discrimination.

Later Sunday, Home Guard chief Ulrik Kragh said the headscarf was not allowed in the corps because it violates the Danish military’s uniform rules. Kragh said the Muslim woman could remain a member of the Home Guard if she respected the uniform rules.

Mawla told Danish media she was angry about the statement.

“I feel it’s really discriminating,” Mawla told the Jyllands-Posten daily. “And it makes me feel like a bad citizen.”

She didn’t answer calls seeking comment Monday.

Jensen, the Home Guard spokesman, said the uniform rules would be reviewed later this year. He said the article about Mawla was removed from the Web site “because of this controversy. We don’t want her to suffer. She made no mistake herself.”

Critics said the Home Guard was caving in to pressure from the Danish People’s Party, which is highly suspicious of Islam.

“Enough is simply enough,” said Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, a Palestinian immigrant who was ridiculed by the Danish People’s Party officials in 2007 because she wore a headscarf during a campaign to enter Parliament. “It’s about time that Danish People’s Party is put in place and learns that we live in a democratic society.”

The party holds 25 seats in Denmark’s 179-seat Parliament but is a key backer of the center-right government. Party leaders made headlines with anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2006 uproar in Muslim countries over Prophet Muhammad caricatures printed by a Danish newspaper.

Associated Press Writer Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.


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