Austrian elections pave way for populist government, making Muslims apprehensive

The elections to the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament on October 15, have marked a firm shift to the right in Austrian politics, particularly on matters of immigration, integration, and Islam.

Sebastian Kurz headed for an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition

After an electoral campaign dominated by at times vicious diatribes against Muslims and foreigners, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) with 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz at the helm managed to secure 31.5 per cent of the popular vote, making it the largest group in parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ), who had previously led a ‘grand coalition’ with the ÖVP as junior partner, took second place, with 26.9 per cent. They are followed closely by the third-largest political force, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which gained 26 per cent of the ballots cast. Liberals and an offshoot of the Green Party obtained 5.3 and 4.4 per cent of the vote, respectively.

With no party gaining an absolute majority, the most likely option for putting together a government appears a right-wing coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ. This would bring the Austrian populists into the government afte all, less then a year after they narrowly failed to clinch the country’s Presidency.

A campaign focused on immigration, integration, Islam

An ÖVP-FPÖ government is all the more likely since the obvious alternative – another grand coalition between Conservatives and Social Democrats – is despised by the electorate and viewed with weariness by party bosses. Against this backdrop of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the youthful Sebastian Kurz has not only stylised himself as a figure of radical political renewal since taking control of his ÖVP party; he has also steered a course of rapprochement with the FPÖ.

Throughout the electoral campaign, Kurz presented himself as the guarantor of a restrictive immigration policy – he claimed that it had been his initiative that had secured the closure of the refugee route across the Western Balkans in 2015.

Kurz also pushed the topic of “Islam” into the limelight of the campaign. Among other things, he called for a hijab ban in schools (while demanding that the Christian cross continue to be displayed prominently in every classroom).(( http://www.fr.de/politik/wahlkampf-in-oesterreich-sebastian-kurz-entdeckt-das-thema-islam-a-1337052 ))

Study on ‘extremist’ Islamic nursery schools falsified

Similarly, the ÖVP politician insisted on the need to close nursery schools run by Islamic organisations, claiming that they were hotbeds of Salafist radicalism.(( https://kurier.at/politik/inland/sebastian-kurz-im-kurier-gespraech-islamische-kindergaerten-abschaffen/271.008.503 )) Confessional educational institutions are widespread in Austria, with the Catholic Church running the vast majority of them.

Kurz justified his stance by pointing to a study on Islamic kindergartens that he had commissioned while serving as Austria’s foreign minister. Subsequently it emerged, however, that the Foreign Ministry had tampered with the study’s results in order to make them more amenable to Kurz’s ‘hard-line’ position.

Where the study’s author had observed that Muslim parents who sent their kids to nursery schools run by Islamic associations were looking for an education based on values of “self-reliance, respect, and love”, a foreign Ministry employee replaced this with the assertion that Muslim parents were seeking to “protect their children from the moral influence of majority society”.

In another passage, the study originally asserted that parents were interested in “respect, serenity, the child’s individuality, hygiene, the child’s happiness, punctuality, love, warmth and caring, self-reliance, as well as transparency of rules”. The Foreign Ministry altered this to claim that “parents place particular emphasis on the imparting of Islamic values”.(( https://cms.falter.at/falter/2017/07/04/frisiersalon-kurz/ ))

Difficult times ahead for Austrian Muslims

Against this backdrop, many Austrian Muslims unsurprisingly see an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz as a threat. Austrian blogger and activist Dudu Küçükgöl observed that “when it comes to efforts at integration, Austria will be thrown back by 20 years.” She expects a rise in racism and anti-immigrantism, particularly directed against the country’s Muslim population.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Austria’s recently passed “Islam Act” might turn out to be particularly important in this respect. Enacted two years ago at the instigation of Kurz, Muslim activists have criticised the law for eroding Muslims’ civil rights.

Notably, the legal text provides far-reaching possibilities to dissolve Muslim associations should they fail to display a “positive basic disposition” towards the Austrian state – whatever this requirement might mean in practice.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/17/rechtsruck-unter-dem-deckmantel-der-integration/ ))

Discriminatory agenda

Consequently, many Muslims fear that the future government will use these extremely flexible legal provisions to their detriment. Murat Başer, chairman of the Islamic religious community in the city of Linz, observed:

“A possible FPÖ+ÖVP coalition could mean a broadening of the burqa ban into a general headscarf ban. It could also lead to a more robust and unchecked application of the Islam Act, which would see mosques and Islamic institutions being put under permanent surveillance.”(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Should Kurz decide to go down this route, he will have the enthusiastic support of the FPÖ: the populists’ campaign called for “redistribution from foreigners to Austrians”, and their electoral placards promised that “we give back to YOU what THEY take from you.” Importantly, ‘they’ not only usurp economic opportunities but also rob Austrians of their cultural identity: “Islamisation must be stopped”, another FPÖ poster read.(( http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5282218/FPOe-plakatiert-Kurz-Kern-und-Gusenbauer ))

International significance of the vote

Political developments in Austria resonate beyond the country’s borders in particular ways. The FPÖ, one of Europe’s most long-standing and most successful far-right parties has been a pioneer of the present-day populist movement. It thus serves as a model for many other comparable parties across the continent.

When it entered the Austrian government for the first time – as a junior partner to the ÖVP – in 2000, the EU and its (at the time) fourteen other Member States reacted with a downgrading of bilateral relations with Austria. Seventeen years later, no such moves will be forthcoming.

German perspectives on the election

German observers tend to pay especially close attention to events in the Alpine Republic across their southern border. Against the backdrop of the strong showing of Germany’s own right-wing populist fringe in last month’s federal elections, commentators are debating the insights and lessons to be drawn from the Austrian case.

Many – including many German Muslims – see Austria as a harbinger of potential things to come: the inexorable growth of a xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic party on the right fringe; a party whose ability to attract ever-growing numbers of voters ultimately paves the way to its inclusion in government.

Austria as a warning…

In this view, events in Austria ought to be a cautionary tale to policy-makers and activists in Germany. Academic Werner Ötsch, whose research focuses on populist movements, asserted that “the Austrian development should really be a warning for Germany. Here [in Austria], no means against the right-wing populists has been found; and the participation in government such as it occurred in 2000 has not debunked the FPÖ but only made the situation worse.”(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/interview-populismusforscher-oesterreich-sollte-eine-warnung-fuer-deutschland-sein-1.3711357 ))

German Muslim voices have often struck a similar note, with for instance the Secretary General of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, echoing the notion that the Austrian election results constitute “a stark warning”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

… or as a role model

Others, however, interpret the electoral outcome in the opposite light: Edmund Stoiber, former leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, asserted that Sebastian Kurz’s campaign had delineated the path to be taken by centre-right parties in order to win elections against far-right populist opponents.(( http://www.focus.de/kultur/kino_tv/focus-fernsehclub/tv-kolumne-hart-aber-fair-bayerns-ex-ministerpraesident-edmund-stoiber-macht-seinem-unmut-in-der-sendung-luft_id_7721375.html ))

Thus, for Stoiber, Austrian developments do not offer a cautionary tale but should instead be emulated. (Stoiber had already supported the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition of the early 2000s. At the time, this sparked enormous anger among his German colleagues from the CDU.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/empoerung-in-der-cdu-ueber-edmund-stoibers-koalitionsempfehlung-zu-gunsten-der-fpoe/96400.html )) )

In some sense, Kurz’s victory might seem pyrrhic: it was, after all, the FPÖ that set the agenda for the electoral campaign and will most likely define the topics and the tone of Kurz’s policy initiatives in government. Stoiber’s statements nevertheless highlight the ways in which the Austrian election results will further intensify the factional dispute within the German CDU/CSU  over whether to respond to the rise of right-wing populists by emulating them.

First Dutch halal-bank might open in the Netherlands

Islamic banking is on the rise in the Netherlands. The Turkish bank KuveytTürk opened its first halal-bank in Germany last week. Now the bank is looking towards the Netherlands for further options.

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This was said by Kemal Ozan, the general manager of the German branch of the bank. “After the opening in Frankfurt we would like to expand to the Dutch market.” He points to the large Muslim community in the Netherlands which consists of almost a million people. “There is a lot of potential for Islamic banking in the Netherlands.”

In 2008 The Dutch Bank and the Authority for Financial Markets identified a “substantial latent need” for Islamic banking products. However this never materialized. The Rabobank did experiment with interest-free banking products but without result. “We did have a look at it then but at the time it was not commercially interesting enough,” a spokesperson of the bank said.

The impediments are abundant: the quantity of Muslims is hard to establish and not all Muslims are orthodox practitioners of their faith. The Central Bureau for Statistics does forecast a considerable growth of the amount of Muslims in the Netherlands. Similarly, the average gross income of that group is increasing.

The most important impediment of the Dutch consumer market is the deduction of interest for mortgages. As a rule, conventional mortgages are cheaper because buyers of houses can deduce those mortgage’s interest from their taxes. Islamic mortgages would be easier to implement if a comparable settlement would be set up.

When the first Dutch Islamic bank will open in the Netherlands is not sure yet according to Ozan: “If our expansion is stabilized we will focus our attention on the Dutch market.”

Islamophobia on the Internet: The growth of online hate targeting Muslims

December 9, 2013

 

On International Human Rights Day, December 10th 2013, the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI) have released a major new report into the growing problem of online hate targeting the Muslim community.

The report examines anti-Muslim hate on Facebook and was produced by the Online Hate Prevention Institute, Australia’s only charity entirely dedicated to the growing problem of online hate.

This major work examines 50 anti-Muslim Facebook pages. The Facebook pages range from “The Islamic threat” which today passed the 113,000 supporter mark and continues to rapidly grow, to “Mohammad the PIG” which vanished after reaching 2000 supporters. From these 50 pages the report documents 349 images of anti-Muslim hate. These images represent 191 unique images and many repetitions as messages of hate move between the different pages. The message of hate in this report are divided into seven themes which the report discusses.

 

Full report at ohpi.org.au – http://ohpi.org.au/islamophobia-on-the-internet-the-growth-of-online-hate-targeting-muslims/

Al-Qaeda emerges amid Egypt’s turmoil

December 4, 2013

 

Summary: Information is emerging that al-Qaeda’s growth in the region is extending into the Sinai Peninsula and across Egypt.

Author: Mohannad Sabry

Full story at Al-Monitor: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/12/al-qaeda-egypt-sinai-insurgency-growing-influence.html?utm_source=&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=8674##ixzz2mwlpGFZx

David Cameron to unveil plans for £200m Islamic bond

October 28, 2013

 

David Cameron will pledge to make London one of the world’s “great capitals of Islamic finance” when he unveils Treasury plans to create a £200m Islamic bond by early next year. The prime minister will also unveil plans by the London Stock Exchange to launch the first Islamic Market Index.

The government moved on Monday night to offer assurances that the Islamic bond, or Sukuk, and the Islamic index would not encourage investments that discriminate against Israel. Boris Johnson was forced to order Transport for London to rewrite the contract for the Emirates Thames cable car in the summer amid fears that Israeli companies could have been blocked from involvement in the project as the United Arab Emirates does not recognise the state of Israel.

A government spokesman said: “The government’s decision to issue a Sukuk compliant bond is about making sure Britain is open for business – we will not open one door at the expense of another. While the Treasury is still working on the practicalities, we can confirm that the government would never exclude a supplier on nationality grounds.”

The Sukuk bond will comply with Islamic law and investment principles that prohibit lenders from charging interest.

On the Islamic index he will say: “The growth of Islamic finance means that there is an increasing demand for new ways of identifying Islamic compliant business activities. Again the City of London is leading the way – this time not just in Europe, but right across the world.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/oct/29/islamic-bond-david-cameron-treasury-plans

Could principles of Islamic finance feed into a sustainable economic system?

October 18, 2013

 

Islamic finance has been a significant global force for the past few decades, but in recent years sharia-compliant saving and investing have become more common. For example, in June, Goldman Sachs provided a loan to Arcapita Bank, an Islamic investment company, that in compliance with sharia law did not charge interest. In July, a US-based trade association, the World Council of Credit Unions, published a manual explaining to would-be community financiers in developing countries how to operate sharia-compliant credit unions.

Western discussions of sharia law often focus on extremist groups imposing brutal interpretations of these legal codes on unwilling populations. But sharia law, which derives from the Qur’an and the religious teaching of Islam, can also be applied to the finance sector. Importantly, Islamic finance can be seen as part of a wider movement towards the promotion of sustainability as a key element of economic life.

The basic premise under sharia law that no one should profit purely from money leads to a shift in both parties’ perspective away from the short-term transaction and towards the longer-term relationship and its consequences.

In short, the structures that have evolved do away with classic debt – and the banks that provide such financing – in exchange for direct participations in risk and reward. For example, an ijara can be used to purchase real estate for the purpose of leasing it out to tenants and the rental income is distributed pro rata to subscribers. A sukuk is a fully negotiable certificate that can be bought and sold on the secondary market, and allows the new owner to “step into the shoes” of the original holder, taking all the rights, obligations and liabilities relating to the underlying assets that accompany the certificate.

Importantly, participants in an ijara and holders of a sukuk have no guaranteed return and are all economically aligned in the long-term success of the project. If the project fails, they cannot simply take their profits to date and sell of the loan collateral to make themselves whole. As a result, Islamic finance encourages the creation of social value alongside economic value.

But Islamic finance is a legitimate expression of an economic philosophy of the use of money. This shouldn’t be stigmatised or criminalised – especially in light of the excesses and abuses that preceded the recent global financial crisis.

Islamic finance is becoming an important part of important emerging economies in the Middle East and Asia – high-growth markets where businesses will want to compete and succeed. And the Muslim population is continuing to grow and can be an engine for further growth.

 

The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/islamic-finance-sustainable-economic-system

“Government, are you waiting for aggression?”

June 7, 2013

 

This is the tough stance of the president of the League of Muslims in Ticino. “The UDC posters (previously reported on by Euro-Islam: http://www.euro-islam.info/2009/04/28/swiss-high-court-rules-udc-muslim-posters-not-racist/) reminds us of the propaganda in the ’30s”

 

The debate focuses on the controversial posters of UDC that portray two immigrants riding two Swiss; the poster has finally been brought to the attention of the Muslim community. The president of the League of Muslims in Ticino, Gasmi Slaheddine wrote to the government requesting decisive action. “Say enough to these constant attacks on the Muslim community,” it reads.

 

According Slaheddine, “the majority of people of the Islamic community in Ticino are well integrated, both socially and professionally. There are men and women who contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country as doctors, engineers, economists, artisans, teachers, cooks… to name just a few examples. Many of these workers are of Swiss nationality.”

Rise in anti-Muslim attacks after Woolwich soldier killing

Muslim leaders have accused far-right extremists of trying to capitalise on the “sick and barbaric” murder of Lee Rigby to fuel racial hatred. A group of supporters of the English Defence League gathered at the scene of the brutal killing of a soldier in Woolwich, they marked a wider pattern of anti-Muslim feeling across the UK, according to monitoring groups. The EDL grouped at Woolwich Arsenal station near the scene of the murder on Wednesday and pelted police with bottles. Their leader, Tommy Robinson, stated: “They’re chopping our soldiers’ heads off. This is Islam. That’s what we’ve seen today.

Islamophobic hate crimes are running at more than 10 times their usual rate, with more than 140 reported to a government-backed hotline in the 48 hours since the Woolwich killing. Tell Mama (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks), a London based group that monitors anti-Muslim hatred, spent the evening logging any incidents of Islamaphobia that occurred in reaction to events in Woolwich. It documented 38 reports of anti-Muslim incidents – most of them online and eight at a street level. In its first year of operation (to March 2013) Tell Mama recorded 632 incidents in total, averaging at about 12 a week. Tell Mama said the latest incidents involved, at their worst, threats to kill but largely low-level abuse – spitting, negative comments about Muslims and one incident in which a woman was threatened with violence. However some report attacks on mosques, assaults, racial abuse and anti-Muslim graffiti. An improvised petrol bomb was thrown at a mosque in Milton Keynes during Friday prayers, while attacks have also been reported in Gillingham, Braintree, Bolton and Cambridge.

The British National Party leader, Nick Griffin, who visited Woolwich yesterday, provoked widespread disgust for tweeting that the alleged killers should be wrapped in “pig skin” and shot again. The English Defence League, which has said the killing shows Britain is “at war” with Islamic extremism, will stage a march today in Newcastle, where it will protest over plans to open an Islamic school. It is also planning a demonstration in central London on Monday. Amid heavy security, Mr Griffin visited the site of the killing following a series of provocative tweets in which he claimed the attack was the result of “mass immigration”.

Far-right websites are linking the murder to population growth among ethnic minorities, while a number of social networking sites also carried messages calling for Muslim sites to be attacked. The “True British Patriots” Facebook page carried calls for mosques to be burned down. The official website of the National Front party berates “Muslim scum”.

Immigrants, growing number in Italy are Orthodox

Andrea Tornielli

5/13/2013

 

The Encyclopedia of Religion in Italy (pp. 1240, 125 euro) is a large volume created by the Turin based sociologists Massimo Introvigne and Pierluigi Zoccatelli, director and vice director of CENSUR, respectively. They found and described 836 religions present in Italy. One of the big findings that came out of the research was the significant growth of orthodox Christian immigrants, which are close to the numbers of Muslim immigrants and will likely supersede Muslim immigrants in the next few years. Vatican Insider interviewed Massimo Introvigne.

In the collective imagination, immigrants are Muslim; instead the orthodox Christian immigrant community is on the rise and will likely supersede Muslim immigrant numbers. What explains this phenomenon?

The largest Orthodox Christian community in Italy is Romanian with 163 churches – and the number continues to grow. The allowance of Romania into the European Union in 2007 has resulted in an easier immigration into Italy especially because Romanian is neo-Latin language and the children and adolescence understand Italian much quicker than other immigrants. In spite of the Italian economic crisis, that has slowed sown immigration from other countries, the social and economic situation in Romania, immigration to Italy remains alluring. The same applies, to a lesser extent to Romania, to other Eastern European countries with a majority of Orthodox. The growth of Orthodox immigrants in Italy does not derive from any specific religious reason but rather the motives of migration. At the same time, it is true that the Orthodox church – including the Romanian church – has emerged in Italy to continue relations with its faithful immigrants, such that the secularization of immigrants – that leave their homes, also happens with religion – for orthodox Christians this is relative.

The members of minor religions include 2.5% of Italians, and 7.6% of persons in Italy. Why is there a sensation, in the public opinion, that there is an invasion of other religions and in particular Islam?

With the processes that aren’t new but were increased with September 11, 2001, Europe has begun to display a fear of the “invasion of Islam” and the conquest of Italy by Muslims is no longer military – like the invasion of Vienna in 1683 – but rather through the increase in immigration. Paradoxically, this fear is reinforced by members of Islamic fundamentalism which takes credit for a renewed “conquest of Europe” through immigration and large families. This is what sociology calls “moral panic,” a phenomenon that is based on data but is amplified in the collective imagination becoming difficult to distinguish between real statistics and statistical folklore. However, the moral panic is based on real data.

In Italy, which for many years has been a land of emigration with an increased immigration, the number of immigrants and non-Catholics (in particular Muslims) did not integrate in a phased manner like in France over the course of a century, in Italy the more rapid immigration is during the span of a few decades. In 1970, Muslims in Italy numbered a few thousand, and are now – according to our Encyclopedia, others believe more – 1,475,000, including 115,000 who are Italian citizens. Such rapid growth obviously poses problems. The existence of small minorities who are seduced by the ultra-fundamentalism and terrorism is a real fact, as seen by police reports. The data tells us that Muslims are numerous but that there is no “invasion.” And, also, religious pluralism is a phenomenon which is culturally important and growing, but statistically it is still a relatively small minority, it is true that 97.5% of Italian citizens are not part of religious minorities.”

A National Unity Government for Egypt!

President Morsi has failed. The divided nation now needs real dialogue. The majority of Egyptians is against a theological state, says diplomat and political analyst Ashraf Swelam

Egypt is more divided than ever before. You don’t have to be a genius to recognize this fact. And yet, President Mohammed Morsi has not comprehended the situation. Nor has the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, nor have their allies from the Salafi camp. And this is despite Morsi having won the country’s first presidential election with only a slim majority.

After the election, Morsi’s most pressing task was to unite the divided country and act as the president of all Egyptians. This is what he had promised. Yet, without batting an eyelid, he did exactly the opposite. He thereby contributed to the growth of a deep-seated and earnest aversion felt by many Egyptians to the Muslim brotherhood.

And, time and again, he has bowed down before Egypt’s so-called “deep state”, the impenetrable web made up of the military, security forces, and bureaucrats. He has even taken up common cause with them, instead of taking revolutionary forces on board to help breathe new life into the severely weakened country.