Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz, leader of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), announced on Friday that Austria would shut down seven mosques and kick out Imams who are funded by foreign countries. Kurz’s decision was prompted by several children’s reenactment of the Battle of Gallipoli in a mosque while wearing Turkish military uniforms. “Parallel societies, political Islam, and radicalization tendencies have no place in our country,” said Kurz. The majority of expelled Imams were members of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation in Austria (ATIB), a Muslim group with close ties to the Turkish government, increasing tension with Erdogan’s non-secular country.
In response, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan argued that the new policy was part of an “Islamphobic, racist and discriminatory wave” in Austria. There is some truth behind Erdogan’s claim. In the 2017 legislative elections more than 58 percent of the Austrian electorate voted for a conservative or far-right party, with the majority of parties expressing xenophobic and anti-Islam rhetoric. Between 2015 and 2016, Islamophobic attacks increased by 62 percent according to Dokustelle, an Austrian organization that documents cases of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism. Austria’s anti-Islam actions are the byproducts of the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), a far-right populist party who formed a majority coalition with Kurz’s ÖVP following a third place finish in last year’s elections. On the campaign trail, Kurz and the FPÖ portrayed Islam as a violent religion citing the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Years Eve and November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. The large influx of Muslim refugees from Syria and North Africa fueled the ÖVP and FPÖ’s anti-Islam rhetoric resulting in increased support from rural areas of Austria.
The coalition has also promised supporters refugee quota limits and the prioritization of Austrian values. This sentiment was reflected in the coalition’s 150-page policy program which outlined a number of restrictions on arriving and already settled refugees. Proposed anti-refugee policies include: reduced financial support, faster deportations, closer monitoring of Islamic schools, among others.
Source: The New York Times and BBC