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Tue 22 June 2021

The Austrian Government’s war against so-called ‘political Islam’ has led to accusations of stigmatising the Muslim community and enabling neo-fascist violence, reports Sian Norris

A controversial map that showed the locations of mosques and Muslim associations across Austria has been taken down after a leading Muslim group threatened to sue Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s Government. 

Integration Minister Susanne Raab launched the online National Map of Islam last month. The map listed the names and locations of more than 620 mosques, associations, and officials and their possible connections abroad.

Human rights activists have accused the map of representing “Nazi-style policy of charting Muslims” with a “blacklisting policy.”  

The map’s publication followed last year’s Operation Luxor, where police raided the family homes of Muslims, including children’s bedrooms, under the umbrella of “counter-terrorism.” NGOs accused the police of traumatising children during the raids which the organisation CAGE called “ideological and Islamophobic.”

Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer attended the raids. No arrests were made and no one was charged. 


Neo-Fascist Attacks 

The map’s publication has led to attacks against mosques and Muslim associations by neo-fascists, according to Nura Al-Izzedin, spokesperson for Austria based child rights group, ACT-P.

“The ‘Islam map’ has given neo-Nazis the green light for Islamophobic attacks,” Al-Izzedin explained, adding “it must be abolished.”

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria agreed, saying the map “exposes Muslim citizens to a massive security risk.”

Vienna’s Al Hidaya Mosque came under attack after the map went online. A spokesperson explained how “since the launch of the so called ‘Islam Map’, several other mosques, including ours were targeted by neo-fascist groups. The community feel threatened that this announcement by the Government has given the green light to far-right racists to target religious institutions.”

“I cannot imagine a similar register of names and organisations being produced for other faith groups,” he added. 

A notice on the map’s website accuses far-right groups of “completely counteracting the purpose of this project” which, Dr Ednan Aslan of the University of Vienna explained, “wanted to enable a differentiated discussion about Islamic life in Austria and make a positive contribution.”


A Pattern of Islamophobia

Austrian officials have categorised the map as a weapon to fight what it terms “political Islam”. A centre to document political Islam was established by Susanne Raab to “fight the dangerous ideology” and “contain extremism and foreign influences”. The centre aims to “map the associations, look at the structures and ideologies behind them, see which associations are good partners and which are not and which associations would receive no funds.”

However, locations included in the map have no links to extremist activity. This suggests that, as with the Operation Luxor raids, the Government is targeting the Muslim community under the guise of counter-terrorism, even when there is no evidence of terrorist threat.

The map also risks branding organisations as being involved in “political Islam” when they are not.

The result, campaigners say, is to create an atmosphere of suspicion against all Muslim people. 

“Defining Austrian citizens as a security threat purely based on their religion must end,” said Al-Izzedin. 

Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has a controversial past when it comes to its dealings with the Muslim community. 

While it is now in a coalition with the Green Party, the Austrian People’s Party formerly governed in coalition with the country’s far-right Freedom Party. During that time, the Government banned schoolchildren from wearing the hijab, although the ban was overturned in 2020. 

The far-right and Christian-right coalition also attempted to close down mosques, succeeding in seven cases – although one of these mosques was run by an extremist group considered illegal by Austria’s main Islamic organisation. In 2015, the Government voted in an Islam Law banning foreign financing of Muslim instituations.  

Kurz’s new coalition partners in the Green Party have condemned the map, with spokeswoman for integration and diversity Faika El-Nagashi tweeting that no member of the party was involved in it or informed about it in advance.

A spokesperson from the Al Hidaya Mosque has asked “for an end to the Government‘s Islamophobic approach towards its Muslim citizens.”

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