7 October 2010
In front of a crowd of 1500 supporters and 300 counter-demonstrators, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), Heinz-Christian Strache, ended his campaign for the Viennese elections with a rally in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Strache spent most of his time attacking the Social-Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and its candidate, the incumbent mayor of Vienna Michael Häupl, whom he criticized for his proximity with Islam. The SPÖ has too many candidates with Islamic background on their lists, said Strache, while he went on to attack the headscarf, “racism” against “ethnic Austrians,” and the number of foreigners in the country.
When Leopoldine Weidinger found out that the Turkish Islamic centre across the street from her was planning on renovating its interior so as to receive five hundred people a week for prayers, she decided to act. Weidinger founded the “Citizen’s initiative – Rappgasse” in an effort to halt the expansion of the centre’s activities, which in her view would permanently disturb the tranquility of the small street, comprising no more than eight house numbers. The poor conditions of the building itself has also led the building inspection department to forbid the continuation of activities therein.
Her initiative has now received a considerable degree of media attention following a rally organised against the Islamic centre on 17 June 2010. Though all political parties had been invited, the participation of far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) and its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, who thanked the “real Viennese” for having attended, as well as the presence of a number of skinheads with “Honour, freedom, fatherland” t-shirts, clearly set the tone. Bringing together between 150 and 200 people –as well as a significant police presence–, the demonstration was denounced as a flop by the nearby counter-demonstration, which clearly outnumbered the former.
The following day Weidinger attended the “Open Doors Day” at a nearby mosque in Hubertusdamm. After having respectfully asked whether she should wear a headscarf, Weidinger spoke with Omar Al-Rawi, Socialist member of the municipal council, who assured her that though “there was nothing [she] could do about it, the skinhead Nazis cheering on [FPÖ-leader] Strache wrecked everything.” Weidinger lamented that she had invited all the parties from her district, however the only one to come was the FPÖ – even then, it had not been planned that the local representative would only speak five minutes and then leave the podium for Strache.
Weidinger maintains that her initiative is not against Islam, and she says she is also supportive of having more large and representative mosques in Austria. However she complains that the Turkish association in her street (the Turkish Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria, ATIP) is not like the mosque in Hubertusdamm: consisting mostly of men who do not understand Austrian culture (or the German language), they have gone so far as to ask her to stop lying in her garden topless, as she is visible from the top floor of the Islamic centre. Despite her successful visit to the local mosque, Weidinger plans to keep on fighting.
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), has proclaimed his respect for the Turkish community and Islam during a meeting with the Turkish ambassador, Kadri Ecvet Tezcan. After having praised Turks in Austria as “hard-workers,” Strache called Turkey an “outstanding country which Austrians love to visit,” and stated that the many Islamic places of worship in Austria were a matter of course, and that through dialogue many prejudices could be countered. For his comments, Strache was presented with Islamic prayer beads as a gift by Tezcan, which Strache accepted before rolling cameras. Turkish-language newspapers in Austria have stated they are now “curious to see Strache’s future behavior towards Turks and Islamic,” following these moderate statements.
City council elections in the south-eastern Austrian city of Graz on Sunday failed to result in significant support for a local candidate for the far-right Freedom Party (FP) who had lashed out against Islam in a highly controversial campaign. The top-seeded FP candidate Susanne Winter scored only moderate wins for the party just days after she called the Muslim prophet Mohammed a “child molester” and called for Islam to be pushed “back where it belonged, beyond the Mediterranean Sea. Mohammed’s marriage to a six-year-old girl would make the prophet a paedophile in today’s system, the lawmaker had told a rally. Voters in Graz, however, seemed only moderately impressed by Winter’s Islam-bashing. Official results showed the FP gained 3.1 per cent, but remained below expectations with 11.1 per cent. Various polls had showed the party would score between 10 and 13 per cent. Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache said the FP had reached their goal of getting into the double digits. Winter pursued her campaign “in the face of strong antagonism, defamation and scandalous threats of violence against her,” he was quoted as saying by the Austrian press agency. Winter’s remarks were followed by a public outcry and triggered an intensive debate about Islamophobia in Austria. According to political analysts, the FP’s anti-Muslim campaign was a calculated gambit to appeal both to a radically xenophobe fringe among Austria’s electorate as well as those alienated by immigration. The Islam-bashing turned out a “non-starter” for the rightists, with the conservative People’s Party and the Greens benefiting instead, analyst Wolfgang Bachmayer told the public broadcaster ORF.