Citizens Forge a New Alliance against “Islamicization”

9 February 2011

A number of neighborhood anti-mosque initiatives in Vienna are coming together to create a new anti-Islam federation, the “Pro-Austria Movement” (BPÖ), also called the “Federation against Islamic Multipurpose Centers and the Islamicization of Austria.” The new federation brings together four separate citizens’ initiatives (Dammstraße, Trostgasse, Rappgasse, and the “Garten-Gallier”) which had been fighting against the construction of Islamic cultural centers in their neighborhoods.

While in many cases, the Islamic associations in question have already received permits for the construction of their respective centers, these associations still hold out hope that they may be able to stop the construction before it begins. “As long as there aren’t any construction machines showing up, I still have hope,” said Hannelore Schuster, spokesperson for the Dammstraße initiative.

In general, these citizens’ initiatives have protested against the noise and the traffic that these centers would supposedly bring with them, however on their web pages the main theme is Islam itself. According to Cengiz Günay, from the Austrian Institute for International Politics, there is a growing “ethnicization of everyday conflicts,” and that there would not be the same problems were non-Muslim groups to be interested in building such centers. He says the centers function merely as a “village square” for many immigrants who do in fact come from villages, and are simply seeking a place in which to meet. Nonetheless, he says he understands the feelings of the local residents involved in the anti-mosque initiatives, and regrets that the situation has now escalated to an “all or nothing” mindset on both sides.

Compromise is increasingly unlikely in many of these local conflicts. In the Dammstraße case, the local Turkish Muslim association ATIB is no longer speaking with the citizens’ initiative, though the latter would not accept the building of a smaller center as a compromise in any case.

Schuster continues to believe that with the new federation they will ultimately win. She points to positive signs from politicians, and not only the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), who finance the federation’s website: following the Vienna elections, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) has been increasingly “reasonable.”