We Need More Moderate Muslims in Politics

13 October 2010

Following the success of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) in the recent Viennese elections, Erich Kocina calls on Austrian Muslims to become more involved in Austrian politics. Nonetheless, he warns that this participation must not be seen as encouraging Turkish or Muslim individuals to represent exclusively Turkish or Muslim interests, as suggested by the president of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) Anas Schakfeh. Headscarf-wearing conservative candidates do have a right to be part of the political process; however, that which is currently lacking is more secular candidates, who should and be perceived as Austrians first, and as Muslims second, and represent interests across the political spectrum.

Why not an Anti-Muslim Brigade?

Erich Kocina reacts to the recent IMAS study (see above) in this op-ed piece, pointing out two main points made clear by results: firstly, in coming out 59% against minarets, Austrians do not think much differently than the Swiss. And secondly, demagogues have done just as good a job in Austria as they have next door. In other words, to what degree one has personally been affected becomes a non-issue, in the same way that those Swiss most against minarets were in areas where no Muslims live.

Kocina states that we can imagine already the consequences of these results: instead of policies, which serve to ensure social peace and attempt to resolve (very real) problems, we will see cosmetic measures taken to heighten the repression of one section of the population in the name of enhancing the general population’s “subjective feeling of security.” In the end, the goal is to win votes. In the same fashion as the just as expensive and pointless current involvement of the Austrian army in patrolling the border in Burgenland, “Anti-Muslim Protective Brigades” could be brought in to patrol the country. Seem ridiculous? He asks rhetorically, – in these times, unfortunately not.

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.