Austrian elections pave way for populist government, making Muslims apprehensive

The elections to the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament on October 15, have marked a firm shift to the right in Austrian politics, particularly on matters of immigration, integration, and Islam.

Sebastian Kurz headed for an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition

After an electoral campaign dominated by at times vicious diatribes against Muslims and foreigners, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) with 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz at the helm managed to secure 31.5 per cent of the popular vote, making it the largest group in parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ), who had previously led a ‘grand coalition’ with the ÖVP as junior partner, took second place, with 26.9 per cent. They are followed closely by the third-largest political force, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which gained 26 per cent of the ballots cast. Liberals and an offshoot of the Green Party obtained 5.3 and 4.4 per cent of the vote, respectively.

With no party gaining an absolute majority, the most likely option for putting together a government appears a right-wing coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ. This would bring the Austrian populists into the government afte all, less then a year after they narrowly failed to clinch the country’s Presidency.

A campaign focused on immigration, integration, Islam

An ÖVP-FPÖ government is all the more likely since the obvious alternative – another grand coalition between Conservatives and Social Democrats – is despised by the electorate and viewed with weariness by party bosses. Against this backdrop of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the youthful Sebastian Kurz has not only stylised himself as a figure of radical political renewal since taking control of his ÖVP party; he has also steered a course of rapprochement with the FPÖ.

Throughout the electoral campaign, Kurz presented himself as the guarantor of a restrictive immigration policy – he claimed that it had been his initiative that had secured the closure of the refugee route across the Western Balkans in 2015.

Kurz also pushed the topic of “Islam” into the limelight of the campaign. Among other things, he called for a hijab ban in schools (while demanding that the Christian cross continue to be displayed prominently in every classroom).(( http://www.fr.de/politik/wahlkampf-in-oesterreich-sebastian-kurz-entdeckt-das-thema-islam-a-1337052 ))

Study on ‘extremist’ Islamic nursery schools falsified

Similarly, the ÖVP politician insisted on the need to close nursery schools run by Islamic organisations, claiming that they were hotbeds of Salafist radicalism.(( https://kurier.at/politik/inland/sebastian-kurz-im-kurier-gespraech-islamische-kindergaerten-abschaffen/271.008.503 )) Confessional educational institutions are widespread in Austria, with the Catholic Church running the vast majority of them.

Kurz justified his stance by pointing to a study on Islamic kindergartens that he had commissioned while serving as Austria’s foreign minister. Subsequently it emerged, however, that the Foreign Ministry had tampered with the study’s results in order to make them more amenable to Kurz’s ‘hard-line’ position.

Where the study’s author had observed that Muslim parents who sent their kids to nursery schools run by Islamic associations were looking for an education based on values of “self-reliance, respect, and love”, a foreign Ministry employee replaced this with the assertion that Muslim parents were seeking to “protect their children from the moral influence of majority society”.

In another passage, the study originally asserted that parents were interested in “respect, serenity, the child’s individuality, hygiene, the child’s happiness, punctuality, love, warmth and caring, self-reliance, as well as transparency of rules”. The Foreign Ministry altered this to claim that “parents place particular emphasis on the imparting of Islamic values”.(( https://cms.falter.at/falter/2017/07/04/frisiersalon-kurz/ ))

Difficult times ahead for Austrian Muslims

Against this backdrop, many Austrian Muslims unsurprisingly see an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz as a threat. Austrian blogger and activist Dudu Küçükgöl observed that “when it comes to efforts at integration, Austria will be thrown back by 20 years.” She expects a rise in racism and anti-immigrantism, particularly directed against the country’s Muslim population.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Austria’s recently passed “Islam Act” might turn out to be particularly important in this respect. Enacted two years ago at the instigation of Kurz, Muslim activists have criticised the law for eroding Muslims’ civil rights.

Notably, the legal text provides far-reaching possibilities to dissolve Muslim associations should they fail to display a “positive basic disposition” towards the Austrian state – whatever this requirement might mean in practice.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/17/rechtsruck-unter-dem-deckmantel-der-integration/ ))

Discriminatory agenda

Consequently, many Muslims fear that the future government will use these extremely flexible legal provisions to their detriment. Murat Başer, chairman of the Islamic religious community in the city of Linz, observed:

“A possible FPÖ+ÖVP coalition could mean a broadening of the burqa ban into a general headscarf ban. It could also lead to a more robust and unchecked application of the Islam Act, which would see mosques and Islamic institutions being put under permanent surveillance.”(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Should Kurz decide to go down this route, he will have the enthusiastic support of the FPÖ: the populists’ campaign called for “redistribution from foreigners to Austrians”, and their electoral placards promised that “we give back to YOU what THEY take from you.” Importantly, ‘they’ not only usurp economic opportunities but also rob Austrians of their cultural identity: “Islamisation must be stopped”, another FPÖ poster read.(( http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5282218/FPOe-plakatiert-Kurz-Kern-und-Gusenbauer ))

International significance of the vote

Political developments in Austria resonate beyond the country’s borders in particular ways. The FPÖ, one of Europe’s most long-standing and most successful far-right parties has been a pioneer of the present-day populist movement. It thus serves as a model for many other comparable parties across the continent.

When it entered the Austrian government for the first time – as a junior partner to the ÖVP – in 2000, the EU and its (at the time) fourteen other Member States reacted with a downgrading of bilateral relations with Austria. Seventeen years later, no such moves will be forthcoming.

German perspectives on the election

German observers tend to pay especially close attention to events in the Alpine Republic across their southern border. Against the backdrop of the strong showing of Germany’s own right-wing populist fringe in last month’s federal elections, commentators are debating the insights and lessons to be drawn from the Austrian case.

Many – including many German Muslims – see Austria as a harbinger of potential things to come: the inexorable growth of a xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic party on the right fringe; a party whose ability to attract ever-growing numbers of voters ultimately paves the way to its inclusion in government.

Austria as a warning…

In this view, events in Austria ought to be a cautionary tale to policy-makers and activists in Germany. Academic Werner Ötsch, whose research focuses on populist movements, asserted that “the Austrian development should really be a warning for Germany. Here [in Austria], no means against the right-wing populists has been found; and the participation in government such as it occurred in 2000 has not debunked the FPÖ but only made the situation worse.”(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/interview-populismusforscher-oesterreich-sollte-eine-warnung-fuer-deutschland-sein-1.3711357 ))

German Muslim voices have often struck a similar note, with for instance the Secretary General of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, echoing the notion that the Austrian election results constitute “a stark warning”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

… or as a role model

Others, however, interpret the electoral outcome in the opposite light: Edmund Stoiber, former leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, asserted that Sebastian Kurz’s campaign had delineated the path to be taken by centre-right parties in order to win elections against far-right populist opponents.(( http://www.focus.de/kultur/kino_tv/focus-fernsehclub/tv-kolumne-hart-aber-fair-bayerns-ex-ministerpraesident-edmund-stoiber-macht-seinem-unmut-in-der-sendung-luft_id_7721375.html ))

Thus, for Stoiber, Austrian developments do not offer a cautionary tale but should instead be emulated. (Stoiber had already supported the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition of the early 2000s. At the time, this sparked enormous anger among his German colleagues from the CDU.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/empoerung-in-der-cdu-ueber-edmund-stoibers-koalitionsempfehlung-zu-gunsten-der-fpoe/96400.html )) )

In some sense, Kurz’s victory might seem pyrrhic: it was, after all, the FPÖ that set the agenda for the electoral campaign and will most likely define the topics and the tone of Kurz’s policy initiatives in government. Stoiber’s statements nevertheless highlight the ways in which the Austrian election results will further intensify the factional dispute within the German CDU/CSU  over whether to respond to the rise of right-wing populists by emulating them.

New statistics show enduringly high level of xenophobic hate crimes in Germany

According to figures released by the German Federal Criminal Police Office, 877 crimes against asylum shelters and housing units of refugees were recorded from January until late November 2016. This compares to 1031 cases in 2015 and 199 in 2014.

Offences comprised a large number of property damage cases, propaganda delicts—which include the defacing of walls with xenophobic or racial slurs—as well as 151 acts of violence. Among these, there were 64 cases of arson and five bomb attacks.(( http://www.news38.de/welt/article208868749/Dieses-Jahr-schon-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsheime.html ))

A spokesperson for the criminal police remained cautious as to whether the slightly lower number of attacks in 2016 meant that the peak of xenophobic violence had passed. She also noted that numbers for both 2015 and 2016 were not final and could still increase.(( http://www.schwaebische.de/panorama/aus-aller-welt_artikel,-Laut-BKA-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsunterkuenfte-bis-Ende-November-_arid,10574729.html ))

A potential pool of undetected cases

It is worth noting that the number of politically motivated anti-immigrant crimes overall – i.e. attacks directed not just against housing units specifically – is still substantially higher.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/fremdenfeindlichkeit-rechtsextremisten-werden-immer-haeufiger-gewalttaetig/14595458.html ))

Moreover, human rights organisations have long criticised the inability or unwillingness of Germany’s 16 federal states to comprehensively list far-right crime, repeatedly noting that official figures are far too low.((http://www.br.de/nachrichten/rechtsaussen/rechtsextremismus-extremismus-opfer-rechter-gewalt-100.html ))

In 2015, for instance, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation published findings that the number of right-wing homicides since reunification in 1990 was more than twice as high as officially recorded.((https://www.mut-gegen-rechte-gewalt.de/news/chronik-der-gewalt/todesopfer-rechtsextremer-und-rassistischer-gewalt-seit-1990 )) In the same vein, Amnesty International recently castigated the German state of systematically failing to identify and address racist violence.((https://www.amnesty.de/files/Amnesty-Bericht-Rassistische-Gewalt-in-Deutschland-Juni2016.pdf ))

An increasingly radicalised core

Even if the overall numbers of xenophobic and racist crimes might be stagnating in 2016, there are indications that the hard core of the anti-immigrant movement is increasingly prone to using more drastic means.

Officially recorded acts of attempted homicides are up, for instance, with authorities aware of 11 cases during the first three quarters of 2016. ((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-zahl-der-versuchten-toetungsdelikte-durch-neonazis-steigt-stark/14703844.html )) In another high-profile case, the far-right militant group ‘Freital’ is currently on trial on charges of terrorism and attempted murder.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/gruppe-freital-anklage-101.html ))

On the one hand, this court case is a success, in the sense that a high-profile disaster comparable to the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was avoided: the NSU’s string of murders had not uncovered for years due to a multiplicity of highly suspect investigatory mishaps. On the other hand, the Freital group reportedly received constant tip-offs and help from a member of the local police((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-11/gruppe-freital-sachsen-polizei-leck-ermittlungsverfahren )) – a fact that once more raises questions about the capacity of German security forces to deal with the right-wing threat.

Aziz Ansari: Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family

Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.
Xenophobic rhetoric was central to Mr. Trump’s campaign long before the attack in Orlando. This is a guy who kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexicans “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” to this country. Numerous times, he has said that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering in the streets on Sept. 11, 2001. This has been continually disproved, but hestands by it. I don’t know what every Muslim American was doing that day, but I can tell you what my family was doing. I was studying at N.Y.U., and I lived near the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, I was on the phone with my mother, who called to tell me to leave my dorm building.

Assault against Islamic Cultural Center in Dresden

Tensions continue to grow between anti-Islam movement PEGIDA and the German government.
Tensions continue to grow between anti-Islam movement PEGIDA and the German government.

The Islamic Cultural Center “Marwa El-Sherbini” in Dresden has been targeted by anti-Muhammad graffitis. According to a chronic, which has been collected by press releases of the police and media reports, Dresden has witnessed a growing numbers of violent xenophobic attacks against refugees, immigrants and Islamic facilities. The right-wing anti-Islam movement, patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of Europe (PEGIDA) has initiated its marches in Dresden. Several branches have adopted the principal of PEGIDA in further German cities but were less successful in mobilizing adherents.

The Islamic Cultural Center Marwa El-Sherbini has been named after the Muslim woman with Egyptian origins. In 2009, the pregnant woman was stabbed to death by the accused at court process. His motive was recorded to be xenophobic.

A judge issues the first condemnation for Islamophobia in Catalonia

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.

 

http://www.thelocal.es/20140305/a-judge-gives-first-conviction-for-islamophobia-in-catalunya

http://www.diba.cat/documents/29578/9eaca6eb-7020-46b8-933c-a789eba1a686

http://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Admin/lo4-2000.t1.html

French mosque vandalised

04.02.2012

Worshippers in the French Muslim community of  Ozoir-la-Ferriére have discovered in the morning of February 3rd a number of racist and xenophobic graffiti painted on the doors to their mosque. The vandals left two swastikas, a “Fuck Islam” and “Long Live Gaul” on the facade of the building. The latter slogan refers to ancient Roman-era name for France and indicates to the xenophobic nature of the attack.

The mosque in the small town in close proximity to Paris is the latest victim in a string of attacks against mosques in the eastern areas of capital city. Prior to the most recent incident, two other mosques were vandalised with Stars of David painted upon their walls. The French police currently investigates the incidents.

Xenophobic paintings in the mosque of La Aljorra

27 June 12
The Muslim community of La Aljorra woke up yesterday with xenophobic paintings in the walls around their old and new mosque, and in other streets with greater visibility around the municipality.
The Islamic community has showed a deep dissatisfaction with what has happened. Their concern is that these racist actions will affect the whole society or will influence the good living enjoyed by the citizens of La Aljorra.

The Pakistani community renounces to construct their Mosque in Zaramaga

16 June 2012

The facade of the premises where the Pakistani community wanted to open a mosque in Gasteiz was flooded with xenophobic graffiti.
The Mosque that revived the specter of xenophobia in Gasteiz during the last election campaign and in the beginning of this electoral term, will not be installed on the Martin Olave street, in the neighborhood of Zaramaga. This was decided by the Pakistani community, on the basis of “social peace” with the neighboring area even knowing that reason and law would protect them. Eight months ago the promoters of the Mosque had signed an agreement with the cabinet of Javier Maroto agreeing to find a new location according to their needs, inside or outside the neighborhood. The construction license is therefore open and the Pakistani community is hoping to find a less controversial site for their Mosque.

Right-Wing Violence in Germany: Migrant Organisations Alarmed

12./ 13.11.2011

Following the most recent findings in a series of right-wing violence in Germany, various migrant organisations are alarmed and call for protests. The chair of the central council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, described the killings of a female police officer in Heilbronn and nine shop owner with migrant backgrounds as a form of terrorism – more specifically, he said it was a classic form of “home-grown terrorism”. He warned not to take Islamophobic and xenophobic tendencies lightly. Similarly, Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, said it was a form of right-terror, which had to be stopped. He called on all Germans to participate in protests against right-wing terrorism.

Norwegian Secret Police Publish Annual Threat Assessment

28 February 2011
Monday 28 of February the Norwegian Secret Police (PST) published their annual threat assessment. Amongst the general findings, some relate to Islam and Muslims in Norway:
Even though few individuals in Norway support extreme Islamism, currently there is activity in certain communities which can contribute to a heightening of the threat situation during 2011. There are three main areas where PST expects developments to affect the threat picture in Norway in the year ahead.
Firstly, a steadily increasing level of radicalization will take place in public and through social media. Social media portals such as Facebook, blogs and various websites have become important forums in which to spread and discuss extreme Islamist views.
Secondly, visits to regions of conflict will continue, for the purpose of training or participation in battle. The majority of terrorist attacks that have been prevented or carried out in full in Europe have been carried out by individuals who have had training in areas of conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recently Somalia and Yemen have also increased in significance as areas where such training takes place. In Norway there are a few individuals who have travelled in order to participate in training camps in these areas. In addition, there are individuals in Norway who actively facilitate travel by others to such places. The ideological and psychological influence, together with the skills, experience and networks these individuals develop while abroad means that some of them could represent a threat to Norway when they return here. They could represent a threat on their own, or in conjunction with others.
Thirdly, extreme Islamists in Norway will become more globally oriented. Individuals in Norway who have extreme Islamist views support organizations which mainly have a national or regional focus. At the same time there are individuals currently in Norway with extreme Islamist sympathies who appear to be more globally oriented. The place where the battle takes place does not appear to be important to these individuals, as long as the battle is being fought. These individuals join small groups which are not dominated by any one ethnicity. Nor are they preoccupied with any specific national conflict. Instead they are united, despite their differences, by an extreme Islamist ideology. These individuals are mainly the ones who could pose a direct threat to Norway in the year ahead. The provision of support in the form of financing, logistical support, propaganda and recruitment will be a significant activity of the Norwegian players again in 2011. Some extreme Islamists currently appear to be more globally oriented, and it is primarily this group who could present a direct threat to Norway in the year ahead.
There was also an increase in the activity of far-right extremist groups in 2010, and this activity is expected to continue in 2011. An increased level of activity among some anti-Islamic groups could lead to increased polarization and unease.
Recently some anti-Islamic groups have appeared in Norway. The development of such groups must be seen in the context of a general increased participation in antiforeigner and anti-immigration organizations in several European countries. Even though the anti-Islamic groups would like to present themselves as having cultural and ethnic diversity, their activity is based on a distinctly xenophobic ideology. In certain European countries such groups represent an increasing violence problem, and represent several thousand activists. Individuals who belong to anti-Islamic groups in Norway are first and foremost found on various social media. In 2011 we expect their activity to contribute to steering the public debate in the direction of increased xenophobic sentiments. This could contribute to an increased polarization within and between extremist groups in Norway. Increased activism among Norwegian anti-Islamic organizations can however also increase the use of violence in such groups, particularly in connection with demonstrations and commemorations.