Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.
The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.
The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.
“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.
Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.
Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”
Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.
While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.
Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.
Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.
These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”
The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.
The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
Following the January terror attacks in Paris, the French government has launched a reform of the “Islam of France,” pushing for a “dialogue forum,” which is believed to better represent Muslims in their diversity. Government spokesman Stéphane Le Foll announced that the “dialogue forum” would be instituted by this summer, highlighting the “willingness to work to engage in in-depth discussion with Islam’s major players.” Similar to the current situation put in place for Catholicism’s leaders, the forum will meet with the Prime Minister twice annually, stated Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve.
The body will address questions such as the training of imams in France, ritual slaughter, or the security of places for worship, “with the utmost respect for the principles of secularism,” stated Mr. Cazeneuve, insisting on the “Islam’s compatibility with the Republic.”
The idea is to provide more public representation than the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) currently provides. The CFCM was created in 2003 and has been criticized for its lack of representation of France’s Muslim community, estimated to contain between 4 and 5 million people. The CFCM will continue to exist, but “it is up to [the group] to assume its place,” stated Mr. Cazeneuve.
“The CFCM will represent the majority of the new forum and will maintain a pivotal role,” stated one of its vice presidents Anouar Kbibech. Currently, meetings will be held to determine possible members: associations, intellectuals, key figures, etc. The government denies any notion of a “takeover.” The initiative remains within the boundaries of the 1905 law, and the State “has neither the authority to organize a religion nor to determine who are the right Muslims,” indicated a source.
For Mohamed-Ali Adraoui, political scientist and research at IEP-Paris, this announcement is “a Jacobin response to a more complex question. We risk quickly encountering a paradox: in a supposedly secular state where the government is not allowed to interfere in religious affairs, I’m not sure if we’re following a secular approach.”
Another expected measure in a time of “great sensitivity to radicalization,” is the training of imams and chaplains, now encouraged to obtain a university diploma of civic and civil training, which will be instituted in a dozen institutions by the end of the year.
Certain imams have “an insufficient knowledge of the language and the laws,” said Mr. Cazeneuve. The idea is to “support the beginning of a generation of imams fully integrated into the Republic.” Many of the 2,300 mosques and prayer rooms in the country do not have a permanent imam, creating a void within which self-proclaimed imams can gain influence. Other proposed measures include the development of funding for PhD students and reinforcing control of educational establishments.
The reform was long awaited, but the attacks, which prompted increased risk of stigmatization, accelerated the process. 176 Islamophobic acts were reported in January 2012, altogether more than in 2014.
The French authorities are moving aggressively to rein in speech supporting terrorism, employing a new law to mete out tough prison sentences in a crackdown that is stoking a free-speech debate after last week’s attacks in Paris.
Those swept up under the new law include a 28-year-old man of French-Tunisian background who was sentenced to six months in prison after he was found guilty of shouting support for the attackers as he passed a police station in Bourgoin-Jallieu on Sunday. A 34-year-old man who hit a car while drunk on Saturday, injured the other driver and subsequently praised the acts of the gunmen when the police detained him was sentenced Monday to four years in prison.
All told, up to 100 people are under investigation for making or posting comments that support or try to justify terrorism, according to Cédric Cabut, a prosecutor in Bourgoin-Jallieu, in the east of France. The French news media have reported about cases in Paris, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Orléans and elsewhere in France.
The arrests have raised questions about a double standard for free speech here, with one set of rules for the cartoonists who freely skewered religions of all kinds, even when Muslims, Catholics and others objected, and yet were defended for their right to do so, and another set for the statements by Muslim supporters of the gunmen, which have led to their prosecution.
But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence. And prosecutors, who on Wednesday were urged by the Ministry of Justice to fight and prosecute “words or acts of hatred” with “utmost vigor,” are relying particularly on new tools under a law adopted in November to battle the threat of jihadism. The law includes prison sentences of up to seven years for backing terrorism.
Some of those who were cited under the new law have already been sentenced, with the criminal justice system greatly accelerated, moving from accusations to trial and imprisonment in as little as three days.
Prosecutors seized on the law in the days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 17 people dead — 12 at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a weekly newspaper that was targeted in retaliation for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. A notice from the Ministry of Justice on Jan. 12 directed prosecutors to react firmly.
The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. According to Mr. Cabut, who brought the case in Bourgoin-Jallieu, the man shouted: “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”
The most prominent case now pending in the French courts is that of Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, a provocative humorist who has been a longtime symbol in France of the battle between free speech and public safety. With nearly 40 previous arrests on suspicion of violating antihate laws, for statements usually directed at Jews, he was again arrested on Wednesday, this time for condoning terrorism.
He faces trial in early February in connection with a Facebook message he posted, declaring, “Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly.” It was a reference to the popular slogan of solidarity for the murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonists — “Je suis Charlie” — and to one of the attackers, Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman and later four people in a kosher supermarket last Friday.
Prosecutors and other lawyers say the difference is laid out in French law, which unlike United States laws, limits what can be said or done in specific categories. Because of its World War II history, for example, France has speech laws that specifically address anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. In the case of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, prosecutors said, the targets were ideas and concepts, and though deemed extreme by some, the satire was meted out broadly.
“A lot of people say that it’s unjust to support Charlie Hebdo and then allow Dieudonné to be censored,” said Mathieu Davy, a lawyer who specializes in media rights. “But there are clear limits in our legal system. I have the right to criticize an idea, a concept or a religion. I have the right to criticize the powers in my country. But I don’t have the right to attack people and to incite hate.”
President Francois Hollande of France and Chancellor Angel Merkel of Germany on Thursday both sought to quash any backlash against Muslims in the wake of the Islamic militants’ attacks. As they have also done in recent days, they raised the issue of anti-Semitism.
“We must be clear between ourselves, lucid,” Mr. Hollande told an audience at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris. He said inequalities and conflicts that had persisted for years had fueled radical Islam. “The Muslims are the first victims of fanaticism, extremism and intolerance,” he said. “French Muslims have the same rights, the same duties as all citizens.” Pope Francis joined the debate while traveling to the Philippines from Sri Lanka, saying that while he defended freedom of expression, there were also limits.
“You cannot provoke,” he said. “You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”
“The members of the Islamic Institute for Advanced Studies, French citizens of Muslim faith, express their horror and indignation following the abominable attack against the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, which caused many deaths and injuries. They express their compassion for the victims, and address their most sincerest condolences to the families affected. They wholly and unequivocally condemn this barbaric violence.
While everything suggests, unfortunately, that those responsible for the killings claim to act in the name of Islam, the members of IHEI wish to reaffirm that no crime can legitimately claim faith in God alone. This is intolerance, ignorance and violence that use Islam, as well as other religions, as a means for personal vengeance against society, or for combat between imagined and constructed identities, both being very far removed from the faith. With all that has occurred, French and European Muslims are trying to understand how such exploitation has become possible by doing all they can to promote comprehension of Islam as a religion of understanding and love.
In conclusion, the members of the IHEI are worried by the current climate where violence committed in the name of Islam justifies all misinterpretations of the religion. They call on their fellow citizens to break from this vicious cycle where the fear of some feeds on the fear of others. The members of the IHEI wish to reaffirm their participation in national solidarity during this mourning period. They will continue without respite, as they have done for years, to weave links between people and cultures that allows us to live together in harmony, despite our differences, in a peaceful and constructive manner, and with respect for the laws of the Republic.”
Islamic Institute for Advanced Studies
A Florida Islamic group is accusing some Republican Party lawmakers and local party organizations of fostering anti-Muslim sentiment.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, sent letters to almost every Republican Club or party extension in the state, asking the groups to stop bringing speakers who espouse anti-Islamic views. The letter said it represented the interests of more than 150,000 registered Florida Muslim voters.
Hassan Shibly, executive director for CAIR, based in Tampa, said such speakers not only inflame anti-Islam tensions but have also led to discriminatory legislation: namely Senate Bill 386, which would ban foreign laws from being enacted in Florida; and House Bill 921, which allows school districts to select textbooks instead of adhering to the statewide curriculum.
Sen. Nancy Detert, who represents Sarasota County and part of Charlotte County, refused to comment on the two bills and the letter sent out by CAIR.
“Why should I care about a letter sent out by someone I know nothing about? Is that really worth a story?” Detert said.
SENATE BILL 386 & HOUSE BILL 903
Referred to as the “Anti-Foreign Law Bill” and the “Anti-Sharia Law Bill,” this legislation would keep Florida judges from applying foreign laws. The only exception would be if the foreign law guarantees the same constitutional protections found in the Florida and U.S. constitutions.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, in the Senate and Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, in the House.
Gov. Rick Scott has voiced his approval for the measure, but critics say the law is unnecessary and there are virtually no examples of foreign law previously intervening with state laws.
Shibly said the bill is thinly veiled anti-Islam legislation, citing a booklet Hays handed out to other Senators.
According to the Miami Herald, the booklet was called: “Shari’ah Law: Radical Islam’s threat to the U.S. Constitution.”
Shibly of the Council on American-Islam Relations said the bill would create a patchwork of curricula that would make it more difficult for the state to set standards for achievement. He also worried some districts might use the measure to push their ideas onto students.
April 17, 2014
Former Republican Congressman Allen West (R-FL), who is currently employed as a Fox News contributor, on Thursday warned that Muslims were organizing to “destroy” the United States by exercising their legal right to vote.
Fox News host Steve Doocy began a Fox & Friends segment with West by announcing that “radical Islamists are busy building a voting bloc to sneak the political agenda into the American system… Their goal: to wage jihad from within.”
West explained that a group of Muslim Americas had written a document in 1991, “and we come to find out it’s the blueprint, the campaign strategy for the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States of America.”
The former congressman pointed to groups like Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim American Society, and the Islamic Society of Northern America as his prime suspects.
“They’re forming some type of political party, a voting bloc as they call it,” West said.
West, however, did not explain how he intended to stop Muslims from using their constitutional voting rights to wage “jihad” on the country.
April 4, 2014
Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in Southern California hold vigil calling for a revamp in federal immigration laws.
Several of Southern California’s most prominent religious leaders held a vigil for immigration reform in downtown Los Angeles on Friday, underscoring a growing interfaith effort to change the nation’s laws.
Immigrants who are in the United States illegally “need mercy and they need justice,” said Archbishop Jose Gomez, welcoming an array of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to the gathering at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
“Times have changed,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. “Some have framed the issue as a monolithic issue of a particular denomination. But that is a myth. The immigration issue transcends all creeds, all colors, all languages.
“It does not matter whether my particular people are suffering,” he said. “But we look at it as our people are suffering. And we stand with those suffering people.”
March 16, 2014
Marking the tenth anniversary of banning hijab in public places in France, hundreds of Muslims and rights activists have protested in Paris to demand abolishing Islamophobic laws and offering more protection to the religious minority.
“All political parties contribute to the current climate of Islamophophia, but so does the media,” a El Hamri, a Muslim activist, told Press TV during the protest held on Saturday, March 15. “They all create a false reality which creates real problems.”
Saturday’s protest was organized by the Campaign of Elimination of Islamophobic Laws which urged French Muslims and rights activists to take part in the anniversary march in Paris. Campaigners aimed to overturn Islamophobic status in France by highlighting Muslim rights to freedom of expression and religious practices.
Citing anti-Islam campaigns led by difference factions of French politicians, Muslim activists expressed concerns that with a broad political backing of anti-Islam laws, it’s not easy to counter what they dubbed as ‘discriminatory laws’. These political groups include the far-right National front, the conservative UMP and even the ruling Socialists.
Lamenting the anti-Muslims polices in France, El Hamri asked: “What will be the next Islamophobic law; the law which bans Muslims from living here? I’m exaggerating… but it will be another law which tries to make Muslims even more invisible! And we want to be visible. Not to create differences, because we have to define our dignity and identity.’’
France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe. French Muslims have been complaining of restrictions on performing their religious practices. In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example. France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.
Last December, a French government report has proposed ending the ban on Muslim headscarves, teaching Arabic and emphasizing the ‘Arab-Oriental’ dimension of French identity. The report stressed that France, with Europe’s largest Muslim population, should recognize the “Arab-oriental dimension” of its identity. Yet, in the same month the French minister of education has maintained the 2004 ban on hijab for Muslim volunteers in school trips, ignoring a legal advice from France’s Council of State.
March 5, 2014
The Judge of a Barcelona Court, María Pilar Calvo, has condemned Jaime T., the website administrator of “denunciascivicas.com”, to two years in prison for inciting hate and violence against Islam and for disseminating anti-Islamic beliefs. The condemnation is the first Islamophobia related condemnation in Catalonia.
Denunciascivicas.com, which has received at least 21,240 visits, contains material praising the Third Reich in Germany. It also encourages readers to carry out similar crimes against Muslims.
Police arrested the IT administrator in March 2011 and seized all kinds of xenophobic paraphernalia, such as photos of Adolf Hitler and swastikas, along with numerous videos from his computer which show him making anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim speeches.
But the man’s two-year sentence judgment — the first for Islamophobia in Catalonia — may be suspended if the defendant agrees to attend a human rights course and does not commit a new crime within three years.
In Catalonia the legal framing of anti-racist and anti-xenophobic laws is defined by the Spanish Constitution of 1978, by the Autonomous Status of Catalonia, Organic law 6/2006 from 19 of July 2006 and by the Organic Law of 4/2000.