Austria's Muslims fear being cast as threat to security

Austria's Muslims fear being cast as threat to security
From Al Jazeera - January 14, 2018

Islamwas mentioned a total of 21 times in the Austrian coalition's new governmental programme, titled "Together. For our Austria".

In terms of domestic security, the programme focused on "political Islam" and "Islamist extremism".

Yet, despite a dramatic increase in the number of right-wing attacks in recent years in Austria, there was no mention of right-wing extremism or fascism in the document published in late December by chancellor-elect Sebastian Kurz's centre-right People's Party (OVP) and the far-right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPO).

According to Austria's domestic intelligence service (BVT), authorities pressed charges in about 1,690 cases related to right-wing extremism in 2015 - the highest number in a single year and an increase from 1,200 in 2014.

Austria is the only country in western Europe with a far-right government since Kurz won Austria's national elections last October. The OVP will govern the country for the next five years in coalition with the FPO, a party founded by former Nazis, currently led by Heinz-Christian Strache.

The coalition government's rhetoric has alarmed some Austrian Muslims who fear they have been cast as a threat to society.

Professor Farid Hafez, a fellow at Georgetown University's Bridge Initiative, said the government's focus on Islam in their programme was unprecedented "in the history of the second republic of Austria".

"In itself, it's something very new," Hafez told Al Jazeera."I think what we will see in the next five years is something that we have never seen before in Austria."

'Combating political Islam'

Many Austrians were concerned that while "political Islam" was often mentioned, it was not clearly defined and in reality, it was common Austrian Muslims that were being targeted in the government's programme.

Under the heading of "Combating political Islam",the coalition government called for "closer monitoring" of Islamic preschools and Islamic private schools and for their closure "where legal requirements are not met".

One of their aims was to prevent "foreign influence, particularly in the field of education" and to implement a "ban onoverseas funding".However, the prohibition applied only to Muslims; no other religious community was mentioned in the report.

"When you bring [political Islam] into the discussion you can mean anything or nothing by it; that's exactly the danger of it. Possibly - and that's my greatest fear - any political opposition and NGOs might be targeted in the future by something called political Islam,"Hafez said.

"If you look at the programme in detail, the way they were framing political Islam was very much in a way where you could potentially target many different groups."

Prevention and de-radicalisation measures in the report also focused solely on Muslims; dangers posed by other groups were ignored.

Islam is a religion that propagates peace and is in no way a danger for any state or society. Unfortunately, when we look at the government programme, Islam is being put into that very corner.

IbrahimOlgun, president of the Islamic Community in Austria

Their manifesto also called for an authorised German translation of the Quran to be used and for Muslims to distance themselves from certain passages of the Quran.

"[Kruz's Freedom Party] has shifted their focus completely and they do not see Muslims anymore as partners in Austrian society, but rather as a threat to Austrian society," Hafez explained.

Growing religious intolerance


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