Op-ed on Muslim life and integration in Austria

In this op-ed piece, Erich Kocina takes issue with the collective fear of a “clash of civilizations” in Austria with respect to Muslims, most often referring to Turks.

First of all, he says that this fear is due to a number of real integration problems; however, this should not be surprising given that uneducated Eastern Anatolian farmers, let loose in a big city in which they have difficulty finding their place, and who consequently turn inwards to find comfort in their partly archaic traditions, do not offer the most favorable circumstances for successful integration. The Austrian way of doing nothing, and then wondering why the group would rather stay closed upon itself, merely encourages this situation.

Secondly, he states that Turks have become the recipient for all negatives image of Muslims in general – whether it be from the 9/11 attacks, shaky videos of Islamist extremists threatening the West, or dictatorial regimes justifying their power by means of the Qur’an. Turk equals Muslim. Muslim equals bad. Period.

Though it seems ridiculous to need to differentiate Turks in Austria from Al-Qaida, Kocina believes that the latest publication from the Austrian Integration Fund may yet bring back the idea that the country will soon be overrun by Muslims, and that all women will be forced to wear a headscarf. Yet, the numbers from this report demonstrate only that there are more Muslims in Austria; those from countries such as Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo or elsewhere, have had children; they have arranged for their families to join them in Austria; and that many have become Austrian citizens.

The study estimates that 58 percent of Turkish youth is religious, and points out that this religiosity is more pronounced the less educated these youths are. Kocina argues that this is logical, as less education means fewer chances in finding a job, and consequently more need for a social foothold, which can often be found in religion.

The oft repeated stories that the land will soon be overrun with Turks, due to their tendency to have more children, are contradicted by statistics. Though at the moment the average birth rate for Muslims is slightly higher than the national average, as living standards rise, the willingness to bring more children into the world sinks.

Kocina concludes by saying that the rest of Austria already knows this process, leaving one last development that the Catholic majority has already long behind it: secularization. This idea has just received an unexpected institutional pillar: the recently-announced formation of a Central Committee of Ex-Muslims in Austria.

Muslims discover Atheism

More than 500,000 Muslims live in Austria, but this figure tells us nothing about how many are actual believers. The expression “C and E Christians” (German version: “Baptismal-certificate Catholics”) applies to the Muslim community as well – people who still live according to certain traditions, but otherwise live a largely secular life.

For these “Muslims” there now exists a representative organization: the Central Committee of Ex-Muslims was founded yesterday (February 26) in Vienna, with the intention of appealing to those who are Muslims on paper, though perhaps not in practice.

The association plans to be involved in debates among Muslims on issues such as the headscarf or minarets, while they also intend to set up a phone hotline for youth. The founder, Cahit Kaya, explains that “we would like offer assistance to children from Muslim families who may not have anyone to talk to.” However, the association is still searching for funding, which explains the lack of a homepage or even an office. Furthermore, it does not look like this constitutes the beginning of a mass movement that might prove to be a rival to the numerous religious associations and the Islamic Community in Austria (IGGiÖ). “The core,” says Kaya, “consists of around twenty people.” Nonetheless, the point is not the number of members at the moment, but establishing a presence and speaking out when Muslim themes are discussed.

The German counterpart and model, founded in 2007, has already shown how this can successfully be done. A Swiss branch was founded in 2009, and now it is Austria’s turn. The figurehead of the movement is the Islam-critic and feminist Mina Ahadi, who was forced to flee Iran for her political activities – first to Vienna, then to Germany. Ahadi has received numerous threats on account of her activities, which Kaya anticipates will be the same in his case as well.

In Austria, renouncing Islam can be done as with any other religious community: all one needs is to submit a form to the proper authorities, such as the Magistratisches Bezirkamt in Vienna. Carla-Amina Baghajati, spokesperson for the IGGiÖ, stated: “one cannot bring people to something that they do not believe,” though she logically was not enthusiastic about the new association.

The IGGiÖ will most likely be one of the most important sparring partners for the new Central Committee, both with regard to the former’s claim to representativeness as well as legitimacy in religious interpretation. “The attempt to raise children a certain way does not always come from the family, but also from outside,” says Kaya. “And we reject that.”

Ehsan Jami directs committee on for ex-Muslims: Fighting for the freedom not to believe

Ehsan Jami, a municipal council member for Labour in Leidschendam, has joined forces with Loubna Berrada, a member of the Conservative (VVD) Party, to form the Central Committee for ex-Muslims. Jami has given up the life of Islam for one of freedom. He became increasingly disillusioned with his faith after 9/11. Though he has nothing against Muslims generally, he no longer respects Islam because of its role in terrorism, the oppression of women, and the oppression of citizens under tyrannical regimes. The Central Committee for ex-Muslims will primarily work to address the greatest taboo in Islam: saying goodbye to one’s faith. The intolerance of Muslims, he claims, has limited their willingness to accept women and gay rights. The Committee will be active in debating these issues with Muslims, providing information to schools, and advising the government-whether solicited or unsolicited.

More than 120 New Mosques

KOLN: With about 3.4 million believers, Islam is, after Christianity, the second-largest religion in Germany. This becomes ever more visible: the construction of mosques is booming. Of course, as with all representations of religion in the state and public sphere, this boom comes with conflict. According to the Islam-Archiv, there are 143 “classical mosques” in Germany. There are 128 mosques in the planning stages . Most of them are very sparse. According to the Muslim Central Committee, there are in addition more than 2000 “hidden mosques”, that were not originally built as houses of worship but are today used as prayer rooms or mosques.