After a hijab and face veil ban, Austria’s right wing government is set to introduce draconian measures against expressions of “political Islam.”
Austria’s right-wing Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced a raft of new measures which would make “political Islam” a criminal offence.
Kurz used Twitter to announce the new policy stating “In the fight against political Islam, we will create a criminal offense called ‘political Islam’ in order to be able to take action against those who are not terrorists themselves, but who create the breeding ground for such.”
The announcement caught many by surprise. The draconian measures do not define “political Islam” nor do they lay out the extent that daily Muslim practices and needs could be now criminalised as a result of this new law.
Kurz went on to add, “There will be further possibilities for the closure of the places of worship, the introduction of an imams register, the symbol and association law will be tightened and measures will be taken to drain financial flows for terrorist financing.”
In the past, Austria has shut down several mosques which it deemed to be political. The move at the the time was condemned as a “reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave” in the country.
Farid Hafez, an Austrian political scientist at the Department of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Salzburg, speaking to TRT World, condemned the latest actions taken by the Kurz government.
“This is the latest step by the government to crush Muslim civil society and send a message out that no one is safe,” said Hafez.
“Making ‘political islam’ a criminal offense would open the doors for every future crackdown,” imperiling all future Muslim activism added Hafez.
Earlier this month, a lone 20-year-old gunman who in the past had attempted to join ISIS (Daesh), attacked several civilians in Vienna. This resulted in four deaths. The attacks were roundly condemned by Muslim groups, and two local Austrian-Turks helped an injured police officer, carrying her to safety.
Kurz’s latest action plan does not indicate in any shape how an attack by a lone individual would have been prevented. Moreover, it threatens to stigmatise wider Muslim society.
One local Austrian journalist attacked the move as a threat to basic freedoms.
“Do we really want to live in a society where experts and the government decide which people are imprisoned for life on sheer suspicion?” he said.
The journalist, Michael Bonvalot, asked whether a law on "political Christianity" was planned, adding that the government’s current measures are “simply populist racism.”
Austria, in recent years, has seen increasing far-right activity and Islamophobic incidents. A report looking at Islamophobia in Europe found that there had been a doubling of Islamophobic incidents in 2019, with 1,050 cases of anti-Muslim hate crime.
In consecutive elections in Austria, the fear of Muslims has been often used as a tool to gain more votes by far-right parties, however, according to the Islamophobia report “no political party to date has really positioned itself against those anti-Muslim claims, suggesting that Islamophobia still enjoys a hegemonic power across the political spectrum.”
In 2019, Austria’s far right government led by Kurz, implemented a hijab ban in primary schools and in 2017, it instituted a controversial ban on face veils. Both moves have been instituted on the grounds of fighting “political Islam”. Many Muslims will now be left wondering what other normative Muslim practices may fall inside the ill-defined government dragnet of “political Islam.”