Anti-Muslim Sentiment Growing Across Europe As Austrian Government to Close Mosques, Deport Imams
Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (Photo: kremlin.ru)

After news of Denmark Government’s decision to ban the wearing of full face veil’s in public, Austria’s government has announced that it is closing seven mosques and plans to expel imams in a crackdown on “political Islam” and foreign financing of religious groups.

The announcement made by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is rooted in a 2015 Austrian law that requires Muslim organizations to express a “positive fundamental view towards [the] state and society” of Austria, and bans foreign funding of religious institutions. “Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalizing tendencies have no place in our country,” said Kurz at a press conference.

His vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, added ominously, “This is just the beginning.”

The conservative Kurz became chancellor in December in a coalition with the anti-migration Freedom Party. In campaigning for last year’s election, both coalition parties called for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam. The government recently announced plans to ban girls in elementary schools and kindergartens from wearing headscarves, adding to existing restrictions on veils.

National and political considerations seem to be underpinning the move by the Austrian government. Forty of the imams under investigation are formally employed by ATIB (known in English as the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation), an organization that manages Turkish mosques in the country and has close links with Turkey’s increasingly theocratically aligned government.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna. He added that the government’s powers to intervene “were not sufficiently used” in the past.

Friday’s measures are “a first significant and necessary step in the right direction,” said Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party’s leader. “If these measures aren’t enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the move. His spokesperson Ibrahim Khalid decried the Austrian government’s decision on Twitter as “a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country” and “an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points.”

The Vox notes that in Austria, freedom of religion is largely enshrined in the country’s constitution. However, its controversial 2015 laws on Islam — which require all imams to be able to speak German, ban foreign funding for mosques and other religious institutions, and generally seek to promote what Kurz, then the integration minister, called “Islam of European character” — placed limits on Islamic expression within Austria.

At that time, a poll found that 58 percent of Austrians felt that Austrian Muslims were being “radicalized.” According to a 2016 International Centre for Counter-Terrorism report, some 230 to 300 Austrian Muslims left the country to fight in jihadist groups in Syria.