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.

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.

New discussions on headscarf ban in Austria

The secretary of Austria’s social democrat party SPÖ, Laura Rudas, has stirred a new headscarf debate. While she heavily criticised the alleged “headscarf constraint” among Austrian Muslims, she later clarified that she does not support a headscarf ban, but wants to achieve a voluntary refusal to wear it in the first place by investing in education.

In an interview with Iraqi-born Omar Al-Rawi of the SPÖ, the politician claims that a new headscarf debate is misleading and unnecessary and emphases the importance equal opportunities for Muslim migrants. Sirvan Ekici, of Turkish background an member of the ÖVP, supports this view by saying that Islam-related debates only disguise the underlying social problems. Both of them admit that Austria has not showed the best performance in integration so far, but that it is on the right track and needs continuous emphasis on and investment into these issues.