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.”

Fighting an Islamic Centre in Vienna’s Floridsdorf

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.

Fighting an islamic centre in Vienna’s Floridsdorf

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.