Liberal Muslims Present a New Approach to Integration

27 October 2010

The Liberal Muslim Initiative of Austria (ILMÖ) has proposed to demand imams and Islamic preachers in the future to sign a declaration in which they agree to respect the principles of European values, democracy, human rights, freedom of opinion, equality of the sexes, respect of other beliefs and the freedom to change religion.
The proposal came during a meeting with the minister of the interior, Maria Fekter. Fekter had invited a number of different Muslim groups to a “dialogue round” as part of a larger national action plan for integration. An international academic conference is to follow in November.
The ILMÖ also heavily criticized the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ) and its leader, Anas Schakfeh, saying the IGGiÖ is “not able to promote the integration of all Muslims” and “is not capable of integrating its own Muslims.”
In response, Omar Al-Rawi, both Social-Democrat (SPÖ) politician and the integration commissioner for the IGGiÖ, stated that the ILMÖ was the “minority of a minority in a minority.” According to Al-Rawi, the IGGiÖ as a federation represents all the different groups that can be found among the 500 000 Muslims in Austria.

Far-right FPÖ Reach 27% in Viennese Elections

10-14 October 2010

Campaigning almost exclusively on an anti-Islam and anti-immigration platform, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has succeeded in augmenting their standing by 10% and attracting over a quarter of all voters in Vienna – a height not seen since Jörg Haider had achieved the same scores in 1996 in Vienna and in 1999 on the national level.

According to Barbara Coudenhouve-Kalergi and Cyrill Stieger, immigration has emerged from this election as the most important issue for Austrian voters, and given that there will be no further elections until 2013, the government now has an opportunity to concretely address the issue, hopefully under a SPÖ-Green coalition. Other commentators point to a growing Europe-wide phenomenon, in which right-way extremist politicians have managed to mobilize populist support around a general theme of Islamophobia, whether in Sweden, the Netherlands, France, or in Austria. In an opinion piece for Der Standard Heidi Glück, the spokesperson for former Austrian president Wolfgang Schüssel, also highlighted the efficacy of focusing on one single theme as the FPÖ had done, and the general inability for the SPÖ to come up with a plausible plan to support integration.

According to FPÖ politician Johann Gudenus, the FPÖ distinguishes clearly between Islam and Islamism. Though he has respect for the former, Gudenus sees a tendency for radicalization among Muslims which often hides behind the idea of religious freedom, while it encourages to sharia law, oppresses women, and gives rise to political Islam.

Strache “Preaches” in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral

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.

Vienna Election: Muslims voters could “tip the scales”

3 October 2010
In an interview with Die Presse, Omar Al-Rawi, a Social Democratic (SPÖ) politician and Integration spokesperson for the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), stated that more mosques are not needed in Vienna, though many need to be renovated or relocated. According to Al-Rawi, Muslims could also “tip the scales” in the upcoming elections, and many may be more motivated now following the aggressive anti-Islamic campaign that the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) has pursued.
There are believed to be 200 000 eligible voters in Vienna who have a migratory background. According to studies from June 2010 by the public opinion research institutes IFES and TrendCom, immigrants with a Turkish background are heavily pro-SPÖ (78%), while immigrants from the former Yugoslavia also on the whole support the SPÖ (56%). Nonetheless, FPÖ-leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s aggressive campaigning amongst immigrants of Serbian background has borne its fruits: 27% of eligible voters from the former Yugoslavia are now supporters of the FPÖ.

Election Campaign with a Veil

3 October 2010
Both the Social Democratic Part of Austria (SPÖ) as well as the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the two largest political parties of the country, have included conservative headscarf-wearing women on their electoral lists for the upcoming Viennese elections.
In both cases the women are so far down on the list that they are sure not become part of the new Viennese council; however, in the case of the SPÖ candidate Gülsüm Namaldi, her conservative religious views and support for Turkish-language education has attracted criticism. Meanwhile the leader of the Viennese ÖVP, Christine Marek, called for the “acceptance of the veil as a normal situation” in an interview with the migrant magazine “Biber,” in which she poses with ÖVP’s headscarf-wearing candidate, Sara Rahman.

From “Jewishization” to the “Islamist Party”

23 September 2010

In this opinion piece, Farid Hafez compares the anti-Jewish strategies that were pursued at the end of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th and the current Islamophobic strategies of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).
Aside from advocating the direct control of the sermons being preached in synagogues, right-wing parties argued for greater control of the architecture of religious building and called for the assimilation of the “unintegratable” Jews – all themes very similar to the headlines concerning Muslims today.
The last few months have also given rise to a new development: the leader of the FPÖ, Heinz-Christian Strache, recently called the Social-Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) an “Islamist Party,” thereby echoing his predecessors who, one century ago, also warned of the “Jewishization” of the Social-Democratic Worker’s Party (SDAP).
Finally, the FPÖ has managed to revive old conspiracy fears, unveiling election placards that warn that the SPÖ is “for obligatory headscarves and thus is encouraging the oppression of women.” This all presented as operating alongside international Islamic terrorism, just as the “international Jewry” was presented as a threat one hundred years ago.

Brigittenau – Pro-Socialist District with a Jewish Past Now Fighting an Islam Center

In this portrait of Vienna’s 20th district, Brigittenau is described as a region that was originally highly influenced by the large Jewish population that used to live here. Unlike nearby Leopoldstadt, however, following the deportations of the Second World War the local Jewish culture was not reestablished. Today it is a multicultural district, with 27,1% of the local population holding foreign citizenship, much higher than the Viennese average (20,1%). The population is also on average younger, and has since time immemorial been governed by the social-democrats (SPÖ).

However, the district has recently made headlines due to local opposition to a planned Islamic centre in the street Dammstrasse, for which a committee has been founded (the Bürgerinitiative Dammstrasse). The initiative has received support from the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), whose leader attended a recent demonstration. The district has seen a significant rise in support for the FPÖ during the last decades, most notably in 1996 when the party managed to reach 30% and break the SPÖ’s absolute majority for the first time.

Social Democrats Quietly Unveil Position Paper on Islam

The Social Democratic Party of Switzerland (SP) has discreetly made public an official position paper “on topics related to Islam.” The text rejects xenophobic stereotyping while at the same time emphasizing the need to defend the “largely secular society.” Western European history is characterized as the product of a process of secularization, while on the other hand the slow evolution of women’s rights issues in Switzerland is brought up to show that any arrogance vis-à-vis Islamic societies is misplaced.

The SP document maintains that sharia law cannot be reconciled with the Swiss state constitution, though it states that most Muslims in Switzerland are already comfortable with the separation of the state and religion. It continues by saying that immigrants should not be primarily characterized by their religion, and that tolerance and openness was expected from all sides. The integration of immigrants of Muslim background is also considered to be more difficult than that of southern Europeans in the past.

In terms of concrete positions the paper offers nothing unusual: provisions for Muslim cemeteries; calls for the training of imams at Swiss institutions; respect for freedom of expression and religious freedom (including conversion); exemption from school for religious holidays; and a public ban on the veil for female teachers. The question of a ban on the burqa is at the moment not a serious issue.

Difference in ethnic and immigrant dutch voting opinion

20,000 potential voters in the upcoming national elections filled out an online questionnaire that indicates their position on issues of immigration and integration. The guide, created by Maroc.NL, was filled out by as many ethnic Dutch as immigrants, and results suggest that responses from the two groups vary considerably:  for example, while 68% of Turks and Moroccans completely disagree that “Islam doesn’t fit in a democratic state”, almost half of ethnic Dutch respondents believe Islam is incompatible with democracy.  The most popular parties among non-Western respondents were the Dutch Muslim Party, the GroenLinks (Greens) and the SP (Socialists).

Western feminists, islam, and career opportunities for Austrian Turkish Women

In a debate organized by dieStandard.at, both Gülhiri Aytaç, business scholar, and Tülay Tuncel, vocational school teacher, agreed that Western feminists are overly arrogant in their desire to “convert” women from other cultures. However, agreement between the two women was much more difficult to attain on the subject of religion.

While Tuncel, who is also integration speaker for the young organization of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party (SPÖ), called for solidarity among European feminists to fight attempts to legitimize Sharia law, Aytaç called this position exaggerated as religion can also be used positively to promote women’s rights. Moreover, Aytaç maintained that if women with Turkish origins statistically more often stay at home and do not work, this is not due to religious pressure, but rather to personal preference. Tuncel countered this position by saying that professional women are often not well regarded in such families, and that she has had a number of female students who wear a headscarf but who are not especially religious.

In the end, one of the main reasons for which a professional career for women with Turkish origins can be difficult is the lack of positive role models. Both women highlight the role of the media in perpetuating a negative image of Austrian Turkish women, often focusing solely on issues such as oppression or the headscarf.