Islam-bashing fails to boost support for Austria’s rightists

City council elections in the south-eastern Austrian city of Graz on Sunday failed to result in significant support for a local candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FP) who had lashed out against Islam in a highly controversial campaign. The top-seeded FP candidate Susanne Winter scored only moderate wins for the party just days after she called the Muslim prophet Mohammed a “child molester” and called for Islam to be pushed “back where it belonged, beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Mohammed’s marriage to a six-year-old girl would make the prophet a paedophile in today’s system, the lawmaker had told a rally. Voters in Graz, however, seemed only moderately impressed by Winter’s Islam-bashing. Official results showed the FP gained 3.1 per cent, but remained below expectations with 11.1 per cent. Various polls had showed the party would score between 10 and 13 per cent. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said the FP had reached their goal of getting into the double digits. Winter pursued her campaign “in the face of strong antagonism, defamation and scandalous threats of violence against her,” he was quoted as saying by the Austrian press agency. Winter’s remarks were followed by a public outcry and triggered an intensive debate about Islamophobia in Austria. According to political analysts, the FP’s anti-Muslim campaign was a calculated gambit to appeal both to a radically xenophobe fringe among Austria’s electorate as well as those alienated by immigration. The Islam-bashing turned out a “non-starter” for the rightists, with the conservative People’s Party and the Greens benefiting instead, analyst Wolfgang Bachmayer told the public broadcaster ORF.