When the Austrian government carried out raids on the Muslim community towards the end of last year, children bore the brunt of it. Now they are living with the psychological fallout.
In Austria, civil society groups have come out strongly against a “state-directed racist and Islamophobic campaign”, which saw authorities raid countless Muslim homes in 60 raids in November of last year.
Coinciding with the International Day Against Police Violence, a spokesperson for the organisation Assisting Children Traumatised by Police seeks to bring attention to the 62 children that “were traumatised and victimised” due to the raids that saw 930 security officials raid 70 mainly family apartments.
Since those raids last year, the Austrian government hasn’t charged or arrested anyone. The impact on the Muslim community, however, has been chilling.
The raids on November 9, called Operation Luxor by the Austrian government, occurred 82 years to the day since a Nazi-led pogrom called the Kristallnacht resulted in the mass arrest of Jews and the destruction of their businesses.
While the country’s Muslim population is not on the cusp of annihilation, the Austrian governments lack of awareness of what message it might send to carry out widespread raids on that date has some worried.
The raids say civil society groups in the statement resulted in “very serious children’s rights violations” in contravention of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
More than 93 percent of children impacted by the raids reported “psychological trauma,” with some “even showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”, said the statement.
One harrowing account from a child caught in the raids described being woken while “someone was pointing a gun” at his face screaming.
Another child described a police officer forcing his head down on the floor using the “tip of his gun.”
The raids carried out at the behest of the country’s right-wing Interior Minister, Karl Nehammer, resulted in heavily armed forces violently breaking into homes early in the morning.
The government hailed the raids as a success. However, the lack of results has cast doubt on the aim of the raids in a country that has increasingly seen an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric.
One of the most prominent people to have their homes raided was the academic and anti-Islamophobia scholar Farid Hafez.
Hafez, who works at the University of Salzburg and is a senior research fellow at Georgetown University in the US, has been a vocal critic within the country and internationally about Austria’s increasingly hostile treatment of Muslims.
The government hasn’t charged Hafez with any crimes, but that hasn’t stopped the state and the media from engaging in a targeted campaign against the academic in a bid to silence him.
When TRT World reached out to Hafez, he expressed concerns that the state is regularly listening to his phone calls describing it as a “different style of living”, followed by a perturbed chuckle.
During the ordeal, Hafez found that the state had been monitoring his communication for more than one year in what seems to be an open-ended security campaign against him.
Hafez is one of the few Muslims and persons of colour studying the plight of Muslims in the country. With the help of the media, the Austrian government has tried to vilify him as a “radical” or even an “Islamist” leading a network of other Muslims in a bid to foment extremism.
Beyond briefings against the academic, the government has produced no discernable evidence to back up its claims. Hafez is also one of the leading editors of a European Union-funded report on Islamophobia published annually.
Hafez has noticed that the raid has also impacted his children.
“There is definitely post-traumatic stress disorder. When all of this happened, one of the effects on my kids is that they could not go to bed alone anymore. They were not able to sleep alone; they were afraid of the dark. And they were afraid of police officers,” said Hafez.
While Hafez’s children are still dealing with the trauma following the raids, the impact on the wider community has been huge.
As a public figure and academic, Hafez has engaged in Austrian society, a country he was born and raised in, civically, yet the raids suggest that anything short of compliance may result in police knocking on the door.
Following the raids, the response from the Muslim community was largely silence says Hafez.
Given the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the country there is widespread fear that individuals could find themselves on a watchlist if they speak out.
Ultimately one of the consequences of the raid is a lot of fear has spread in the community leaving the country's Muslims on the edge about what they can and can't speak out on.