Citizens Forge a New Alliance against “Islamicization”

9 February 2011

A number of neighborhood anti-mosque initiatives in Vienna are coming together to create a new anti-Islam federation, the “Pro-Austria Movement” (BPÖ), also called the “Federation against Islamic Multipurpose Centers and the Islamicization of Austria.” The new federation brings together four separate citizens’ initiatives (Dammstraße, Trostgasse, Rappgasse, and the “Garten-Gallier”) which had been fighting against the construction of Islamic cultural centers in their neighborhoods.

While in many cases, the Islamic associations in question have already received permits for the construction of their respective centers, these associations still hold out hope that they may be able to stop the construction before it begins. “As long as there aren’t any construction machines showing up, I still have hope,” said Hannelore Schuster, spokesperson for the Dammstraße initiative.

In general, these citizens’ initiatives have protested against the noise and the traffic that these centers would supposedly bring with them, however on their web pages the main theme is Islam itself. According to Cengiz Günay, from the Austrian Institute for International Politics, there is a growing “ethnicization of everyday conflicts,” and that there would not be the same problems were non-Muslim groups to be interested in building such centers. He says the centers function merely as a “village square” for many immigrants who do in fact come from villages, and are simply seeking a place in which to meet. Nonetheless, he says he understands the feelings of the local residents involved in the anti-mosque initiatives, and regrets that the situation has now escalated to an “all or nothing” mindset on both sides.

Compromise is increasingly unlikely in many of these local conflicts. In the Dammstraße case, the local Turkish Muslim association ATIB is no longer speaking with the citizens’ initiative, though the latter would not accept the building of a smaller center as a compromise in any case.

Schuster continues to believe that with the new federation they will ultimately win. She points to positive signs from politicians, and not only the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), who finance the federation’s website: following the Vienna elections, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) has been increasingly “reasonable.”

Muslim graves defaced after far-right election win

Over 90 Muslim graves were desecrated on Sunday in the central Austrian town of Traun, near Linz, close to the Czech border. The gravestones were knocked over and in certain cases painted with black spray paint, Austrian security authorities said in a statement. Jewish symbols such as the star of David were also painted on the graves, as well as “Menorah” or Jewish candelabra. Austrian authorities suspect right-wing extremist neo-Nazis were responsible for the violence. The cemetery’s undertaker said a sticker of a right-wing organisation was removed from the entrance of the cemetery last week. The incident took place the same day as two far-right political parties made substantial gains in Austria’s parliamentary election. At the weekend the far-right Freedom Party and the New Alliance for the Future of Austria received a combined 29.1 percent of the vote. The Social Democrats won the polls with 30 percent but they and the conservative People’s Party suffered their worst results since 1945.

New Alliance born in Denmark

On Monday, the New Alliance, under Dutch Parliamentarian Naser Khader, split from the social-liberal party, the Radical Venstre (RV). Khaser is an advocate of free speech and Muslim dialogue. His political maneuver is designed to combat the right-wing Danish People’s Party, which has taken increasingly antagonistic positions against foreigners. Syrian-born Khader gained national attention during last year’s cartoon controversy. He also founded the Association of Democratic Muslims. Through this organization, he urges dialogue within the community and appeals to the Danish people to differentiate between radical Muslims and those with moderate positions.