Religion Takes a Front Seat in Viennese Elections

17 September

From the “Minaret-game” in Styria to the question of a minaret ban in Vienna, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has been focusing heavily on religion for its current election campaigns. For Regina Polak, religious studies scholar at Vienna University, this is characteristic of a growing trend to “religiousize” social and political conflict. Migrants become Muslims, while the Austria reaches the top position of the xenophobia-index in Europe.

In the case of the Orthodox Serbs, other political parties might try their best; none have managed yet to outmatch the FPÖ. Calling for the unity of Christians against Islam, Heinz-Christian Strache appears in campaign posters with Serbian prayer beads around his wrist, and over the years they have effectively practiced a strategy of “micro-targeting,” according to political scientist Thomas Hofer.

The Green member Alev Korun criticizes this move, and says that though she visits mosques, she does not go to pray, but to talk about the policies of the Greens. This is in direct opposition to the socialist politician, Omar Al-Rawi, who is simultaneously the integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ).

Al-Rawi has been criticized for overly mixing together religion and politics, while the head of the Jewish community, Ariel Muzicant, has stated his disappointment at Al-Rawi’s criticism of Israel in the recent debacle involving the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. In response, Al-Rawi has said that conflict in the Middle East in an issue of politics, and not religion, and thus his attempts to condemn Israel’s actions at the level of the Viennese government has been accordingly political.